February 2nd, 2016

Transportation Network Companies, Taxis and Background Checks

Over the last not-quite-a-year, Massachusetts has been contemplating additional regulation for transportation network companies such as Uber and Lyft. One of the things Massachusetts has accomplished during this time is to approve a new insurance produce offered by USAA and hopefully soon by other companies. Drivers for transportation network companies are covered by their own car insurance when they are in their car and the app is off and they have no fare. They are covered by Uber, Lyft, wtf, when they have a fare. But when the app is on and they are waiting for a fare, they are covered by neither. The USAA product covers this gap. States regulate insurance companies and their products. Approving this product is a bigger deal than it might sound like.

What Massachusetts has not yet accomplished is a more comprehensive overall scheme for regulating transportation network companies. Several proposals have been put forth, by the governor, various legislators, etc. Predictably, the governor's proposal has the fewest requirements, requirements that are present in all the other proposals. The other proposals have ... more requirements.

One of the additional proposed requirements is fingerprinting all drivers. The rationale is obvious: someone could phony up an identity and then drive for Uber or Lyft or whatever, never mind that pesky felony or sex offender status or whatever (it has happened). There is speculation that the TNCs are resisting a fingerprint requirement, on the theory that it moves them one step closer to being forced to recognize drivers as employees, which they do not want (and, to be fair, the drivers are pretty mixed on as well, with some being in favor and many being opposed -- and the fact that a lot of drivers drive for multiple services just adds additional confusion). A regulation to fingerprint would appear to save the TNCs this risk -- they aren't making employees do something. The law is.

But I asked myself, Self, I know you get a lot of your information about taxis from some pretty sketchy sources, but I don't think taxis have this requirement. Are all drivers in taxis _currently_ fingerprinted? Are all drivers in taxis _currently_ required to be fingerprinted? Never mind everywhere. Let's just stick with Massachusetts for now, since it is Mass police advocating for fingerprints.

https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/01/06/mass-police-chiefs-urge-fingerprinting-for-uber-drivers/Qtvp15kKODXOY588ADDubO/story.html

The argument in favor of fingerprinting is oh so reasonable. And yet.

"Within a month, he added, fingerprinting will begin in Boston for all current and prospective cab drivers."

So, basically, here we are in January 2016, and the taxi drivers are not yet being fingerprinted. At all.

Safety is a _great_ argument. I'm glad that we're gonna start fingerprinting. I'm totes okay with the fingerprinting. Really! (They have my prints. 2x: from when I carried concealed over a decade ago, and more recently to get TSA PreCheck. If they've got mine, dammit, they can def have someone whose car I'm maybe gonna get into, groggy with jet lag.)

All that said, it doesn't make me think nice things about people arguing AGAINST the safety of TNCs, when the taxis have never had to do this anyway. (I'm carefully refraining from pointing out the salient commonality between the police and taxi companies. I'm pretty sure you can work out what it is.)

ETA: The NAACP thinks maybe I shouldn't be so glad that fingerprinting is about to happen.

https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/01/07/uber-naacp-raise-concerns-with-fingerprinting-proposal/0V0EoB9kHZAQFIb53suFnL/story.html

I apologize for my racism. I had not contemplated this problem. Fingerprinting should ONLY be used in conjunction with policies that compensate for this issue.

"The NAACP and ACLU of Massachusetts say the proposal could bar minorities who have arrest records but no convictions from getting jobs in the rapidly growing industry. A federal database containing fingerprints of arrested individuals does not always contain information on whether or not the person was convicted.

Michael Curry, president of the Boston branch of the NAACP, said communities of color are “more engaged by police officers,” which often leads to arrests that do not result in convictions. “We don’t want to create more barriers to jobs,” Curry said, adding that the unemployment rate has historically been higher in minority neighborhoods."

There is additional stuff in this article quoting the previous police commissioner, Davis.

"He said Uber is a boon for customers in minority neighborhoods, where cabs are not always available.

During his tenure as commissioner, Davis said, “a constant refrain from neighborhoods of color in Boston was that they couldn’t get cab service. ... Uber has solved that problem.”"

To be fair, Davis is now consulting for Uber.

It's a complicated world out there. I'm glad that a variety of regulatory schemes are being contemplated. I had previously thought that regulating the TNCs as livery (limo) companies would be a good solution, however, the more I've learned about how limited livery regulation is (and how easy it is to dodge by moving the garage from one town to another), the less I think that would be a good idea.

Naloxone in the news

Naloxone is what you give to people who have overdosed on opioids. That's not its only use, but it's the most important one, from a public policy perspective. If given in the right time frame, via IV, it can take someone who otherwise would be dead and revive them more or less instantly. It is amazing stuff.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naloxone

Best of all, it doesn't have a lot in the way of side effects. If you haven't taken any opioids, about the worst thing that can happen is you might discover you've got some pain that naturally produced endorphins were masking.

So you might wonder, why isn't this shit available everywhere all the time? I mean, might that not save some lives, given the epidemic of opioid abuse that white people around the country are suffering from?

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-cvs-health-nalaxone-idUSKCN0VA38U

"CVS Health Corp said it would make the opioid overdose antidote, naloxone, available without a prescription at all its pharmacies across Ohio, a state with one of the highest rates of overdose-related deaths." It was already available without a prescription in several states, but this is a commitment to a higher degree of availability. Judging by those two medic memoirs I just read (_A Thousand Naked Strangers_, and _Welcome to New Orleans ... How Many Shots Did You Hear?_), one of the biggest issues involved in getting naloxone into a person who has od'd is not being sure that's why the person is unconscious and not breathing -- and bystanders who are more worried about being prosecuted for drug abuse than getting the person who is (nearly) dead back in the realm of the living again. (Look, if people who abused opioids had good judgment, they wouldn't abuse opioids, so it shouldn't be a surprise that they tend to make that kind of choice under pressure.)

Naloxone is rapidly joining the EpiPen in availability to people who are (sort of) first responders.

http://www.wlky.com/news/coalition-provides-free-naloxone-kits-and-training/37756222

I hope this helps. Apparently more people are dropping annually from opioids than die in auto accidents. We really need to fix this.