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How to Hurt Chicago’s Black Community: Crack Down on Ridesharing

Beyond the Rhetoric

By Harry C. Alford

In case you missed it, the conversation about requiring fingerprint-based background checks for drivers on ridesharing platforms and imposing limits on surge pricing for the services flared up again last week in Chicago.

I’ve written about the flaws of fingerprint-based background checks before. Many believe fingerprinting is the gold-standard in law enforcement, but when we take a closer look at how Alderman Anthony Beale’s proposal to require drivers for ridesharing companies to be fingerprinted would impact minority groups, we realize just how wrong that assumption is. Independent government audits have shown these background checks are discriminatory, incomplete, and inaccurate.

First, minority groups are much more likely to have had an interaction with the criminal justice system. Though many of these interactions are minor, nonviolent offenses where the charges are dropped, oftentimes, the record hasn’t been cleared. In fact, nearly half of Black men are arrested by the age of 23. Think about that. The issue is even worse in Chicago, where 37% of the population under 18 identifies as Black, but Black boys and girls make up more than 79% of juvenile arrests. If you include the number of people who are currently in prison, you will find nearly 80% of working-age African American men in the Chicago area have a criminal record.

Studies also show that fingerprint-based background checks are incomplete and inaccurate. A Department of Justice survey found that 26 states and Washington, D.C., indicated that less than 70% of felony arrest records have been updated with the final case outcome. So that a young Black man who was arrested, but found not guilty – he’s the one who will get hurt by a fingerprint-based background check. The survey also found that more than half of law enforcement agencies still use ink and paper to collect fingerprints, even though this method has a near 1 in 3 rejection rate.

Therefore, earlier this summer, 20 members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus came together to sign a joint letter expressing their concerns over this very issue. They argued that their communities, which were historically underserved by public and private transportation options until ridesharing came along, deserve a job application process free of the discriminatory practices that fingerprint-based background checks invite.

Our leaders in Congress are right. We can do better. And the good news is that there are other options for background checks that resolve these issues. We need to consider the alternatives before making any decisions that disproportionately impact the lives of any citizens, especially Black men and women.

Additionally, Alderman Beale’s proposal aims to limit surge fares during unexpected periods of peak demand to 150 percent of the average price of the ride. This proposal would take money directly out of drivers’ pockets, many of whom have picked up ridesharing as a second or third job and an extra source of income. For drivers, surge pricing is a good thing –  it means increased fares and a reliable stream of pickup requests.

But a restriction on surge rates isn’t just anti-driver, it’s anti-consumer too. Surge pricing at its core is a supply and demand mechanism. It ensures that there is a driver available for every passenger who opens the app — even during high demand times like peak commute-hours or during late-night hours when other transportation options aren’t available for third shift workers.

Services like Uber and Lyft have given careers to Black men and wo- men throughout Chicago. They’ve also brought another transportation option to underserved areas on the South and West sides of the city. Fingerprint-based background checks and limiting surge pricing could change that. Before Chicago rushes to enact another ordinance on ridesharing, we need to look at what the city, and its minority population, stand to lose.

Mr. Alford is the Co-Founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce ®. Website: Email: [email protected] 

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