City must protect travelers at LAX through strong background checks for TNC drivers

[Michele Hanisee]

On Tuesday (August 18) a committee of the Los Angeles City Council takes up the issue of allowing so-called transportation network companies (TNC) to access Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) legally. The Board of Airport Commissioners recently adopted a policy to do so and delegated authority to the Los Angeles World Airport’s executive director to implement a permit system, however the City Council asserted jurisdiction over the matter as it is entitled to do under the city’s Charter. In doing so, multiple Council members raised important issues about public safety, concerns that the ADDA share. There are other important policy issues surrounding TNC’s such as Uber and Lyft, but our focus is the issue of traveler safety.

Tourism is such a huge part of our regional economy and local residents as well as visitors to Los Angeles must have a transportation system that is safe. As TNCs become part of the growing number of airport access options, travelers should not be picked up by drivers with manslaughter, rape, identity fraud, or other serious felony convictions. The city’s taxicab regulations require taxi drivers to submit fingerprints when they apply to drive, which are then checked against the U.S. Department of Justice criminal database. Applicants with dangerous or questionable backgrounds are rejected. TNC drivers at LAX must be subject to the same finger printing and background check requirement. Sadly, the Board of Airport Commissioners was silent on this issue and it is unclear what type of background checks will be required for TNC drivers. If there are procedures that would enhance the rigor of background checks, these should be added too.

In addition, taxi drivers (as well as transit operators and limousine drivers) are screened for driving under the influence and reckless driving and are part the California Department of Motor Vehicles “Employer Pull Notice” program. Accidents, convictions, and license suspensions are all reported to the city so that they can be reviewed and taxi driver permits revoked, if appropriate. TNC drivers at LAX also must be screened through their DMV records and be part of the DMV Employer Pull Notice program. Again, the Board of Airport Commissioners did not make this a requirement.

The City Council must mandate finger print-based background checks through the U.S. DOJ, screening of DMV records, and participation in the DMV Employer Pull Notice program for TNC drivers. In addition, both the Council and the public must know what rules apply to the TNCs at LAX. This can only be achieved if the Board of Airport Commissioners adopts specific rules rather than delegating rulemaking to airport staff. This ensures transparency in the process, allows policy makers and the public to verify that adequate public safety rules are in place, and protects the millions of travelers that use LAX each year.

As such, the City Council should reject the Board of Airport Commissioners fuzzy TNC policy and require that specific rules are adopted that protect public safety. The traveling public deserves nothing less.

Michele Hanisee is Vice President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys. She can be contacted at mhanisee@laadda.com. The view and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ADDA which represents nearly 1,000 Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys.

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