Metro

adrian walker

Do state ride-sharing rules punish drivers who pose little threat?

In this Jan. 14, 2016, photo, a driver waits to pick up passengers at an Uber and Lyft pick up area at the Bellagio hotel and casino in Las Vegas. The advent of Uber and Lyft in Nevada last fall has thrown the powerful Las Vegas taxi industry and its regulators into upheaval, as the taxi industry's $3-per-ride credit card processing fee and lack of an online review system look suddenly out of date.(AP Photo/John Locher)

John Locher/AP

A driver waits to pick up passengers at an Uber and Lyft pick up area.

In December, Francisco Erhold thought he had it made.

He had met all the requirements to begin driving for Uber. For the new job, he bought a “new’’ used car, a 2014 Nissan Maxima. He says he was making $500 a week when things were slow, $800 when he worked more hours.

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Then, to his surprise, his past came calling. A 1997 arrest— when he was 17 — for an adolescent escapade barred him from passing a new state background check for drivers for ride-hailing companies. Erhold said he and some friends were arrested for what we’ll call a nonviolent infraction. The case had been continued without a finding — meaning that he pleaded to “sufficient facts” but was never convicted, with the understanding that his record would be expunged if he stayed out of trouble.

The arrest didn’t involve driving a car, but it was enough for the state to ban him from driving for Uber.

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He said he was not opposed to regulating drivers. He just didn’t think it was fair to ban him for long-ago behavior that never resulted in a conviction. “I believe in keeping the public safe,” Erhold told me Tuesday. “I’m all for that. But they should tell people before they make the commitment, and buy a car.”

Erhold was one of more than 8,000 drivers who failed the state’s new background check. The regulations were authorized by the Legislature last year, and include 18 disqualifying conditions, a policy considered one of the most stringent in the nation. Before the regulations were enacted, companies like Lyft and Uber screened drivers themselves, a system that did too little to protect the public.

Drivers can now be disqualified for driving violations, license suspensions, or serious crimes. That’s as it should be.

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But the new regulations allow drivers to be banned for other reasons, too, including minor offenses committed years ago, or even cases, such as Erhold’s, that were never adjudicated. That has left some arguing that the regulations are too sweeping and ban people whose offenses don’t suggest they pose a threat to public safety.

Erhold appealed his ban. And a couple of weeks ago, he became one of a few hundred banned ride-share drivers who have gotten their privileges restored by the state.

Both the ride-hailing services and advocates believe the new regulations are in need of revision, and I think they’re right.

“We think there are many parts that are overzealous,” said Tom Maguire, Uber’s general manager for New England. “We’re mostly focused on the drivers who have been removed from the platform unjustly. Their concerns are our concerns.”

State officials insisted Tuesday that the regulations had been agreed upon by the ride-hailing companies. And Governor Charlie Baker stated that he believes the appeals process is adequate to allow those wrongfully banned to resume driving. As of Tuesday, 441 drivers had successfully appealed for reinstatement.

But the relatively low bar for being banned can fall hard on drivers who lose a vital source of income for a minor offense, or for someone who agreed years ago to have a case continued without a finding on the belief that their arrest would not follow them forever. It’s hard to believe that banning them really makes anyone safer.

Regardless, the good news is that these regulations are not yet final. Public hearings are scheduled for May, andthe final regulationswon’t be issued until later this year. The ride-hailing companies and community activists have vowed to push back on some of the most onerous new rules.

A good place to start would be dumping the requirement that calls for continued cases to be treated as convictions. They aren’t the same thing, and the administration surely knows that.

There is broad agreement, I think, that more stringent regulations were necessary. But figuring out how to protect the public without punishing the harmless shouldn’t be this difficult.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at adrian.walker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Adrian_Walker.
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