As with any mass killing, now all too common in America’s unraveling culture, the horrific Feb. 20 shooting rampage from the Uber driver in Kalamazoo, Mich., brings troubling facts and triggers deep emotions. As difficult as it may be, separating the two helps point to the right preventative measures.
Factually, as of today and absent new evidence, it appears this could have happened in any occupation. There’s a reason we have the cliché, “going postal.” The big questions are: Would the highest-level fingerprint background check have screened out driver Jason Dalton? Would a face to face job interview have disqualified him? Would enforceable prohibitions on carrying firearms while commercial driving helped deter this calculated act?
We may never know for sure, but those are the three linchpin questions when trying to assess fault or blame in this single episode. We should leave the answers to the prosecutors, investigators, and criminal justice system.
What we do know is the driver worked for Uber X, not Uber Black. He had been background checked, although not at the most thorough level. He received mostly positive reviews from among the 100 passengers he had driven. He was not interviewed for his contract job. And nothing in his outward behavior or lifestyle drew immediate concern.
Unfortunately, there is no real test for latent insanity, hidden motives, covert mental illness, or irrational evil. Evil masks itself in the most deceptive and clever of ways. No demographic is exempt, not even middle-aged, married, employed, suburban home-owning fathers without criminal records – the demo that outwardly appears “safest.”
Nevertheless, this mass murder, whether technically the result of a faulty background check or lack of better one, or not, culminates what has become the Uber problem. Every form of bad behavior associated with ground transportation driving is owned by Uber, and particularly Uber X, in spades. I don’t even need to recite the onslaught of media reports over the last few years that support this. They’ve become part of the American cultural background.
Given gross deficiencies in Uber’s background checks and the nature of independent contract work, if this mass murder was going to happen in a transportation company, it would be Uber X. It’s easier to get a job out of prison with Uber X than it is to work at Wal-Mart, Starbucks or any number of minimum wage service sector jobs. That’s why felons, ex-cons, freaks, loons, weirdos, mentally ill people, and sexual predators who need a quick, easy buck naturally gravitate to Uber X: You have a better chance to beat or skate through the screening system. That doesn’t mean most Uber X drivers fit those categories; it’s just the system fails to screen out the tiny percentage that do. And as is the case with fanatical terrorism, it only takes a fraction of one-percent that "slips through" to wreak untold havoc.
So what’s next? While nothing is foolproof, the industry agenda to push with regulators and legislators should be straightforward:
- Require Uber X and Lyft to abide by the standards of more reputable chauffeured app services such as Blacklane, iCars or Asteride. If Uber X and Lyft cannot follow those standards and survive, they deserve to go bankrupt and implode.
- Anyone driving for any ground transportation service, whether employed or independent, needs to be interviewed in person, trained, licensed and subject to background checks — costs and wait timelines be damned. The industry should push for federal legislation that speeds up and makes D.O.J. fingerprint background checks more readily available. Uber X and Lyft are electronic hitchhiking. Our parents always warned us about its dangers, 20th Century style. Now we’ve witnessed the ultimate hazard of the 21st Century version.
- Push for more employee-oriented business mandates that narrow the definitions of independent contracting. There are class-action lawsuits in the works to remedy the excesses of TNC-related independent contracting, but those possible victories must be complemented by pro-employee-model legislation. A ground transportation service that actually must employ its drivers and pay them decent wages will likely attract a better caliber of applicants and be motivated to do the most thorough vetting, checking and training possible. If you see your employees daily, you pick up on clues and troubles.
Lastly, the limousine industry in no way should take comfort or develop a sense of superiority because of the mass Uber murder. This is a ferocious wake-up call and final warning to companies that promote and advertise duty-of-care: Do you background check your chauffeurs and drivers? If any limousine services are not doing so, NOW is the time to start and clean up your act.
Imagine the consequences if this killer had worked for a legal, licensed limousine service that is a member of the National Limousine Association. Perish even the remote possibility.
The more casual and coarse society gets, the more chauffeured service can gleam with a counter-couture-culture.
As the dates for autonomous milestones move up, motorists retain a healthy skepticism of self-driving vehicles.
What happens when the big buses are chauffeured, while more sedans to the airport are driven?
I did a test recently of two almost identical limo rides to and from the airport. It's time to talk about rates.