Regulations

Thumbs Up For Fingerprint Background Checks

Lexi Tucker
Posted on October 19, 2016

The phrase “duty of care” arises often in industry conversations to highlight differences between the luxury ground transportation industry and transportation network companies (TNCs). Legal limo operators get their clients to destinations safely — this we know. But does this mean universal fingerprint background checks for all chauffeurs?

“If you’re going to do something, do it right.” In sum, this is what members of the industry who want a level playing field are saying to TNCs such as Uber and Lyft. But here’s the catch: Not all states require fingerprint background checks for drivers for hire. If this is the case where you do business, are you still going above and beyond to guarantee your clients aren’t being driven by thieves and rapists?

Mandatory? No. Wise? Yes.

Operators gave mixed answers when asked if they believe most limousine companies fingerprint background check their chauffeurs.

 Unless mandated by the state, it’s unlikely many operators conduct checks that thorough, says Wendy Kleefisch, owner of Brevard Executive Limousine & Transportation in Indialantic, Fla. “I think because of the cost and time involved, the answer is no. In today’s market, operators are having a hard time retaining chauffeurs and don’t want to invest in somebody who is going to turn around and work for somebody else.”

Wendy Kleefisch, owner of Brevard Executive Limousine & Transportation
Wendy Kleefisch, owner of Brevard Executive Limousine & Transportation

Although fingerprinting is only mandatory in some Florida counties, Kleefisch does it anyway. “As a business owner, I feel it’s my responsibility; it’s also a tax write off. This way, I know it’s done properly and the chauffeur has been vetted to the very best of my ability so there’s no room for error.”

Richard Fertig, president of Brilliant Transportation in Brooklyn, N.Y. where fingerprinting is required, believes more operators would do it if mandated. “I don’t think anyone has a real bias against it, it’s just time consuming and financially constraining,” he says.

While fingerprint background checks are only necessary to serve the airport in her area, Diane Forgy, president and owner of Overland Chauffeured Services in Kansas City, Mo., believes they are important. “I think [many] operators do perform these checks, but I think it’s primarily driven by local legislation that as a rule we all follow and comply with,” she says.

In California, fingerprint background checks are not required by law, but Kevin Illingworth, president of Classique Limousine in Orange, Calif. and president of the Greater California Livery Association, conducts them anyway. “It’s never been mandated through the Public Utility Commission, but it has been brought up and we’ve been asked if we would be willing to participate. We’ve said yes because if it turns around and makes our industry whole, then we’re definitely on board.”

Nothing Good Comes Easy

Richard Fertig, president of Brilliant Transportation
Richard Fertig, president of Brilliant Transportation
Fingerprint background checks evoke the phrase, “easier said than done.” Or, as Fertig puts it, “If it was the easiest thing in the world and free, everyone would do it.” He believes it’s most challenging for small business owners. “It’s difficult for them to understand what it is they’re getting (or not getting) for the price they are paying; It’s not transparent. By design, it’s a confusing and scary process.”

He believes one solution might be an NLA approved background check that details what type of check operators need and at what price point. “In an ideal world, the industry overall would need to work more closely together and share best practices. There’s no proprietary edge in limo company A having a better background check than company B. If B sends a felon to pick up a CEO, then it will shine negatively on A also,” he explains.

The fingerprint process is cumbersome, making it an obstacle, Forgy says. Not everyone has the time to go in, stand in a line, and pay a fee; it needs to be streamlined. “In a perfect world, I think everyone who’s going to drive other people should be fingerprinted. I think huge companies like TNCs that have an issue with fingerprinting are not being straight with why they feel it’s a problem. They are just trying to get people behind the wheel as fast as possible and this is a hassle to them.

“I don’t think the obstacles are any more than doing proper screening and background checks, because it’s still a process that takes at the minimum several days,” she says. “We are doing drug screening, physicals, and verifying employment at the same time.”

Kevin Illingworth, president of Classique Limousine
Kevin Illingworth, president of Classique Limousine

Kleefisch adds it takes a lot of patience because you are often working with volunteers at your local police department by appointments who normally are available only a few times a week.

 “It reminds me of what we do in the limousine world; we hurry up and wait. I encourage people to make an appointment through HR at your local police department or establish relationships to get your foot in the door. Ask very nicely; if you go in shouting, you won’t get anything. It becomes frustrating because time is money.”

Unfortunate Realities

The big question is whether TNCs will ever be required to conduct thorough background checks on their drivers. It will take something big to get the public’s attention, Illingworth says. “I’m hoping, for my own kids and Millennials, that it happens. Because if it doesn’t, I think a lot more people are going to get hurt.”

At his company, applicants must meet with the general manager, fill out an application, come in for training, go out on the road with a driver trainer, and also make it through a series of background checks. “This way, you’re getting a sense of who the person truly is, and learning if this is someone you truly want working for you. We’re not just putting a body to a car to fulfill a need for an app.”

Because the public wants cheap rides, they just don’t understand the value of a fingerprint background check, Forgy says. “They assume TNCs do a relatively better job of screening than they actually do. They say, ‘I use the service and I don’t have any problems. Why are you making a big deal out of this? You’re just jealous. You don’t want the competition because you’re a dinosaur.’”

Diane Forgy, president and owner of Overland Chauffeured Services
Diane Forgy, president and owner of Overland Chauffeured Services
In reality, all Uber and Lyft care about are their numbers. “I don’t know if they just don’t want to appear more like an employer, or whether they just don’t want to scare off a large number of driver applicants or both,” Forgy says. “It’s almost like the Wild West revisited. Back then, there were few, if any, rules. They blow into town and take what they want and nobody stands up to them. Then, after enough people get hurt, something changes.”

Fertig understands the unfortunate reality is TNCs have so much political clout, money, and teams of lawyers, they do whatever they want. “Stopping that runaway train can be challenging. The only thing that stops it is something where the general public is left shaking their heads in disbelief; not the threat of the incident, but the incident itself.”

Seeing The Difference

One of the only ways to stay competitive is to lead by example by not compromising high standards, Forgy says. Raise the bar and keep it there. If you’re not doing fingerprint background checks, you should. Find the quickest, easiest way to do it and get the process down on paper for prospective chauffeurs. Talk to your clients in a way that doesn’t come across as a lecture, but help them understand the risks of riding with Uber drivers.

And when the “Uber is cheaper” line comes up, consider these words of wisdom from Fertig: “One of the reasons a client would elect to pay more for a service is for the security and the reliability and the things you don’t see. The shiny new cars and iPads are nice, but I think what operators are missing is the fact people want to pay for what’s happening behind the curtain. If you don’t do that, then it becomes really challenging to justify a higher price point.” 

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Related Topics: background checks, city regulations, Diane Forgy, federal regulations, industry regulations, Kevin Illingworth, limousine regulations, regulatory enforcement, state regulations, TNCs, Uber

Lexi Tucker Associate Editor
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