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Uber gets the green light in Pullman

In this March 15, 2017, file photo, a sign marks a pick up point for the Uber car service at LaGuardia Airport in New York. The ride-hailing company Uber may now operate its business in Pullman without requiring its drivers to provide fingerprints after the Pullman City Council amended its taxicab licensing code at its regular meeting Tuesday evening. (Seth Wenig / AP)
In this March 15, 2017, file photo, a sign marks a pick up point for the Uber car service at LaGuardia Airport in New York. The ride-hailing company Uber may now operate its business in Pullman without requiring its drivers to provide fingerprints after the Pullman City Council amended its taxicab licensing code at its regular meeting Tuesday evening. (Seth Wenig / AP)

The ride-hailing company Uber may now operate its business in Pullman without requiring its drivers to provide fingerprints after the Pullman City Council amended its taxicab licensing code at its regular meeting Tuesday evening.

The council unanimously amended the ordinance so that, effectively, Pullman’s taxicab background check requirements will fit those of most “transportation network companies” such as Uber and Lyft.

Taxicab and TNC drivers must now undergo Social Security and name-based background checks through a third-party vendor to obtain a Class III license in the City of Pullman. They will not be required to provide fingerprints.

The city began requiring fingerprint-based background checks of taxicab drivers in 2014.

Uber contacted city staff in 2016 seeking to operate in Pullman, but the company objected to having its drivers be subject to and pay for the locally required, fingerprint-based background check.

Pullman Police Chief Gary Jenkins told the Daily News there were at least nine drivers working for Uber in Pullman before the company objected to the local requirement, prompting Uber to disable its drivers’ Uber apps.

The TNC requirements are mostly equal or superior to what the city previously had in place. Background checks will now be conducted every two years rather than five and some disqualifying offenses can be up to seven years prior rather than five.

Jenkins said the police department received some mixed feedback during a public comment period on the issue earlier this year.

While Jenkins said an Associated Students of Washington State University poll indicated 93 percent of students were in favor of the ordinance change, several employees of local taxi companies spoke out against the ordinance change during a public meeting in March.

But the department’s analysis of fingerprint-based checks versus Social Security checks indicates fingerprint checks are often inaccurate and incomplete.

That, combined with TNC companies such as Uber and Lyft including security features other taxi services do not – such as providing customers with photos of their driver and license plate numbers and tracking dates, times and GPS routes of all rides – led staff to recommend accepting the TNC-based ordinance.

“Staff is satisfied that background checks conducted by vetted background screeners . will not increase the exposure of taxi riders in Pullman to drivers who should be disqualified,” the report reads.

TNCs will be required to register as businesses and could hire any third party to conduct the background check, so long as the company is accredited by the National Association of Background Screeners.

City attorney Laura McAloon said all existing licenses will continue until their renewal dates.

Also, the council:

- Declared Sept. 16 as College Hill Association Day to recognize the organization’s 25th anniversary.

- Heard an update on the status of a marijuana detection project from WSU regents professor emeritus Dr. Nick Lovrich.

- Accepted a federal/state operating grant for Pullman Transit.

- Approved the final plat of Paradise Hills Subdivision No. 8 and authorized the mayor and finance director to sign the final plat.