Westchester Gives Lyft and Uber a ‘Thumbs Up’

John Jordan | July 2017

Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino announced the new “Thumbs Up” fingerprinting program.

WHITE PLAINS—After negotiating a deal that mandates creating a voluntary fingerprint program for drivers, Westchester County allowed ride-sharing services such as Lyft and Uber to launch operations there.

Gov. Cuomo signed legislation that allowed Lyft and Uber and other ride sharing services to begin upstate and on Long Island on June 29th. The legislation did allow counties and large cities to opt out and not offer ride-sharing services in their borders. Westchester County officials had bristled at the ride-sharing legislation, wanting additional consumer safeguards, particularly fingerprinting of drivers.

On June 27th, Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino was joined by Uber and Lyft executives in announcing a settlement whereby a voluntary pool of fingerprinted drivers was created from which Lyft, Uber and other ride-sharing companies could hire.

The new program is called “Thumbs Up.” Participating drivers whose fingerprints show they have no criminal record will be issued a “Thumbs Up” decal by the county to be posted on their windshield to alert customers that the driver has undergone the vetting process.

“Our goal was to find the right balance between safety and convenience,” said Astorino. “Ride-sharing companies provide the public with an important transportation option. But if that convenient ride is not safe, it’s not really an option at all.”

County officials stressed that no screening can be 100% foolproof, but law enforcement officials have said that fingerprinting provides the best safeguards. Not only does fingerprinting offer access to the best data bases of criminal activity, but also those databases are constantly being updated. This means law enforcement can be alerted to criminal activity that occurs after a driver is hired, not just before, county officials related.

“Ride sharing is not supposed to be hitchhiking with an app,” said Astorino. “The public has the right to know that the driver picking them up has been fully screened for a criminal record. The ‘Thumbs Up’ sticker in the windshield will tell riders that their driver has gone through the most complete background check. That’s a level of protection Westchester riders deserve.”

Lyft and Uber said they will encourage their drivers in Westchester to participate in the program.

“The agreement with County Executive Astorino and the Westchester County Legislature ensures that residents and visitors will have access to safe, affordable transportation options,” said Sarfraz Maredia, general manager, Uber Tri-State. “By working with Uber to bring the benefits of ridesharing to Westchester, County leaders recognize the importance of technology and innovation in their community.”

In addition to supporting the “Thumbs Up” program, Lyft and Uber said they would make their technology available to the county to help with traffic management and would work with the county on potential revenue opportunities at county facilities, such as the Westchester County Airport.

Interested ride-sharing drivers can go to the county’s Taxi and Limousine Commission to be fingerprinted for $90. Within 48-72 hours, the results of the background check will be returned and entered into a database of fingerprinted drivers. Drivers who pass the check will be issued a “Thumbs Up” certificate and decal for their window. In August, drivers can go to Morpho Trust, a New York State authorized fingerprinting service, and have a report run for $102. The results will be sent to the TLC. The county will receive a $15 administration fee for each check it administers.

“I appreciate the County Executive’s compromise to create a pool of properly vetted rideshare drivers in Westchester County,” said Board of Legislators Chairman Michael Kaplowitz. “New York State has passed a terribly flawed TNC bill that compromises the safety of Westchester County residents and puts the County Legislature in an untenable situation. It is also clear that the residents of Westchester County want to have Uber and Lyft operating in Westchester and the County Executive’s plan to place decals on the cars of drivers who have submitted to and passed criminal background checks with fingerprinting is in my opinion the best scenario that could be reached with Uber and Lyft at this time.”

The county is also going to continue to work with the taxi and limousine companies already licensed in Westchester to ease their regulatory burdens so there is a level playing field for all types of for-hire transportation. The county has also asked Uber and Lyft to develop the technology to put the “Thumbs Up” certification into their app, so that riders will know ahead of time if they’ve been fingerprinted.

County Legislator Virginia Perez issued a statement critical of the ride-sharing compromise deal. Noting that her father was a taxi driver for more than 30 years, she said she was opposed to the compromise agreement because it still allows “ridesharing companies to operate in Westchester County under an inequitable set of laws that put our traditional taxi companies at a significant competitive disadvantage and even more disturbingly compromises the safety and security of the riding public.”

Under Department of Motor Vehicle regulations, ride-sharing companies must become an approved ride sharing company, an application must be completed and submitted to DMV and companies must have an app to connect with riders. There is a $100,000 application fee. There is also an annual renewal fee of $60,000.

Ride sharing companies will have to provide vehicle liability insurance for $1.25 million whenever a passenger is being driven and companies must provide workers compensation coverage for their drivers.

Companies are also required to adopt anti-discrimination policies for all passengers, including those with disabilities.

The state DMV also requires ride-sharing drivers pass a criminal background check before they can transport passengers, which includes a review of their driving record. Ride share companies must enroll drivers in DMV’s License Event Notification System, which reports traffic ticket convictions, suspensions, revocations, reinstatements and other events.

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth