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Voluntary Fingerprinting In Westchester Accompanies Ride Hailing

It is day five for ride-hailing services in New York outside of the Big Apple. In the Hudson Valley, Westchester County lawmakers plan to monitor their concerns via a task force after the county and ride-hailing companies announced a program to create a voluntary pool of fingerprinted drivers. Meanwhile, further north, Kingston’s mayor says so far, so good. 

With the launch of ride-hailing services June 29, Uber’s first New York City suburban customer was in Westchester County. An Uber spokeswoman says that trip was 1.8 miles, lasted 6.5 minutes and took the rider from the Port Chester train station to a hotel. And in the days leading up to the state’s ride-hailing launch, Republican Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino was in talks with Uber and Lyft executives trying to address what he calls a major flaw in state law; that is, not requiring ride-hailing service drivers outside of New York City to be fingerprinted. Astorino then announced a voluntary program.

“The program is called ‘Thumbs Up,’ and participating drivers can volunteer to have their fingerprint on record with our law enforcement and if it shows no criminal record then clearly they will be passing that test. They will have the highest standard,” says Astorino. “And we will issue a decal that will go on their car basically giving the thumbs up that they have been fingerprinted.”

Drivers can go to the county’s Taxi and Limousine Commission to be fingerprinted for $90. Within 48-72 hours, the results will be returned and entered into a database of fingerprinted drivers. Astorino says that starting in August, drivers can go to Morpho Trust, a state authorized fingerprinting service, and have a report run for $102. The county will receive a $15 administration fee for each fingerprint check it administers.

“It is a first of its kind in the nation. It is something that we believe will hopefully catch on,” Astorino says. “We also hope that this will spark a conversation around the state and ultimately will lead to the state amending the law again that would permit and require fingerprinting across the state.”

Democratic county Board of Legislators Chairman Michael Kaplowitz, who stood alongside Astorino for the June 27 announcement, says he appreciates the county executive’s compromise to create a pool of properly vetted ride-hailing drivers in Westchester County.

“And the legislature will continue to hold out the option to opt out at a later date if Uber and Lyft at any time do not operate in good faith or fail to make public safety their priorty,” Kaplowitz says.

Board of Legislators Democratic Majority Leader Catherine Borgia commended the fingerprinting plan but criticized what she called a back-room decision. Lyft and Uber executives said they will encourage their drivers in Westchester to participate in the program. Josh Gold is Uber’s New York Public Policy Director.

“And we feel this is a good compromise that balances the needs of the legislature and the county executive with the requirements of the state law,” Gold says.

He says Uber will continue conversations with county officials on how to best improve transportation options. And some of those discussions will take place as part of a county legislative task force. Borgia says Democrats on the county’s Board of Legislators will take the lead in coordinating discussion and plans of action on the continuing public safety and economic issues of allowing ride-hailing in Westchester County. The task force will monitor the ride-hailing operations over the first six months and come up with financial solutions and safety recommendations for the Board of Legislators and county executive to consider.

The state’s new ride-hailing law stipulates that the Department of Motor Vehicles has oversight of such services, as opposed to local governments, which have oversight of taxicabs and limousines.

Meanwhile, Kingston Mayor Steve Noble anticipates a lot of ride-hailing use in his city. Noble used Uber the first day it was available in Kingston. Noble says he had met his driver a few months earlier at a tech meeting.

“I didn’t recognize him until he pulled up and he said, ‘Mayor Noble, is that you?’ And he’s like, ‘What are you doing,’ and I was like, I’m actually here to get picked up. And he’s like, ‘no way, you’re my first ride,’” Noble says. “And so it was a very small world and the person was actually a videographer and teaches video production and wanted something to help fill in during the summer, and so that’s the type of job creation that I think is really exciting for Kingston.”

During his comments, Noble opened a ride-hailing app.

“I just opened one just right now on my phone and someone said they could be here within seven minutes,” Noble said.

He says that bodes well for a Monday around noon.

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