WPCNR COUNTY CLARION-LEDGER. From the Westchester County Department of Communications. (Edited with additional reporting by The CitizeNetReporter) Photo, Courtesy Westchester County Department of Communications. June 27, 2017 UPDATED, June 28, 2017 with Uber and Lyft application website addresses:
Joined by executives from Lyft and Uber, County Executive Robert P. Astorino today announced an innovative solution to allow ride-sharing companies to operate in Westchester while increasing rider safety by creating a voluntary pool of fingerprinted drivers from which companies like Lyft, Uber and others could hire.
A spokesman told WPCNR that Uber and Lyft had not guaranteed they would hire only fingerprint-checked drivers, or require present Uber and Lyft drivers to be fingerprinted.
A Lyft email received last week by WPCNR last week shows that Lyft does do extensive criminal background checks on Lyft potential drivers before hiring them.
The press release continues:
“New state regulations, which go into effect on Thursday, contain a major flaw that put the safety of Westchester residents at risk because they do not require ride-sharing drivers outside of New York City to be fingerprinted.
Working with Lyft and Uber, Astorino developed a plan that will enable Westchester residents to know whether their ridesharing driver’s background screening includes a fingerprint check.
“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.”
The new program, the first of its kind in the country, 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 their driver has undergone this critical level of screening.
Gerald McKinstry, press spokesperson for Mr. Astorino told WPCNR that a potential Uber or Lyft driver had to be hired first by Uber or Lyft, then apply for the fingerprinting process. Asked how one applies to Uber or Lyft to be a driver, McKinstry said you would have to contact Uber for how one does that.
Editor’s Note,June 28: In a Lyft email received by WPCNR last week, the company explains how you apply to be a Lyft driver for the first time, and notes the apparently thorough effort Lyft makes to screen drivers and new potential drivers. That link to this information is
On the Uber website, there is an application on how to become an Uber driver (you simply copy the following and place it in your browser) at
WPCNR asked if a potential Uber customer wanted a “Fingerprint Cleared” driver, could get such a driver, McKinstry said Uber and Lyft were “working on that.”
He said the program has just been hammered out within the last 24 hours. Asked if this had anything to do with Senator George Latimer’s press release earlier this week criticising the county position, McKinstry said no, that the county was aware of the worldwide popularity of ride-sharing services and wanted assurances that Westchester residents using a ride-sharing service could be assured they were riding with confidence in the driver they received.
According to the County news release on the news conference,
“While no screening can be 100 percent foolproof, law enforcement officials say fingerprinting provides the best safeguards. Not only does fingerprinting offer access to the best data bases of criminal activity, but those data bases are constantly being updated. This means law enforcement can be alerted to criminal activity that occurs after a driver is hired, not just before.”
“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 (already on staff) in Westchester to participate in the program and thanked County Executive Astorino and his team for bringing ride-sharing to Westchester.
“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.”
Airport Options to be Encouraged
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.
Here’s how the “Thumbs Up” program works:
Starting today, interested (Uber/Lyft and would-be Uber/Lyft) drivers can go to the county’s Taxi and Limousine Commission to be finger-printed 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.
Starting 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.
The efforts to balance safety and convenience also have the bi-partisan support of Board of Legislators Chairman Michael Kaplowitz.
“I appreciate the County Executive’s compromise to create a pool of properly vetted rideshare drivers in Westchester County,” said 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.”
For years, companies such as Uber and Lyft have lobbied the state to allow for ride-sharing throughout New York. The state’s new ride-sharing law stipulates that the Department of Motor Vehicles has oversight over ride-sharing services, as opposed to local governments, which have oversight over taxicabs and limousines.
Under the law, Westchester County can opt out of the state law at any time. To help ensure the smooth operation of the law, Lyft and Uber have agreed to work with the county and participate in regular oversight meetings.
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.
Edward Stoppelmann, president of Red Oak Transportation, said his company and others will work with the county on this effort to ensure safety remains paramount in the industry.
“The Livery Industry Council of Westchester, which represents the for-hire companies in the County, will continue working with the County Executive and TLC leadership to ensure that public safety remains its top priority,” said Stoppelmann. “TLC licensed drivers have always been subject to mandatory fingerprinting and drug testing, and are an integral part of the ground transportation system here in Westchester serving our residents, corporate citizens, and visitors.”
Editor’s Note June 28: Uber and Lyft are now legal ride options beginning June 29 (tomorrow-not July 1) according to state law, and the County press release. White Plains taxi regulations previously banned Uber/Lyft pickups in White Plains. WPCNR has asked the White Plains Mayor’s Office if this policy is now definitely obsolete. (No statement from the Mayor’s office as of 4 PM today.)
Press spokesperson Gerald McKinstry told WPCNR that Uber Lyft operations are now legal throughout the county based on the new state law. He also said that the county still could opt out of the state law at a future date because counties with a population of over 100,000 (not 500,000 as previously reported) have that right to opt-out under the law.