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Top Uber adviser in NH says alleged killer passed background check but firm won't change its screening policy

New Hampshire Union Leader

February 23. 2016 2:59PM
Jason Dalton is seen on closed circuit television during his arraignment in Kalamazoo County, Michigan on February 22, 2016. (REUTERS)
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GOFFSTOWN — A senior Uber adviser said Tuesday that a Michigan Uber driver charged with murdering six people last weekend was a “deranged individual,” and that the ride-sharing company wants to work to develop a statewide policy in New Hampshire for regulating its drivers.

That Kalamazoo driver was a “highly rated driver and had passed a criminal background check, so unfortunately like so many of these instances we see around the country, this heinous gun violence, it’s a deranged individual, and you cannot predict future behavior in that,” David Plouffe told reporters after speaking to more than 100 people — many Uber drivers — at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College.

Plouffe, a former adviser in President Obama’s White House, was in town to kick off Uber’s first “Work on Demand” event in New Hampshire. Plouffe said Uber doesn’t expect to change its overall background-check policies following the arrest of Jason Dalton, 45, who became an Uber driver last month.

Police told reporters Dalton admitted to the fatal shooting spree; authorities are investigating reports that Dalton drove fares for Uber in between the shooting episodes.

Plouffe also said the company wants to work with politicians for “regulatory certainty” statewide, rather than leaving its drivers to face a patchwork of municipal ordinances that would be difficult to maneuver.

“It’s about smart, modern regulations,” Plouffe said. “What won’t work is to force services like us into regulations that were written 50 years ago that didn’t envision things like smartphones and GPS technology.”

Rolled out in Manchester in October 2014, Uber — which pairs drivers and riders via a smartphone app — counts more than 500 drivers and thousands of riders in southern New Hampshire, according to Uber officials. About three-quarters of its drivers in New Hampshire work fewer than 10 hours a week.

Portsmouth has enacted an ordinance for ride-sharing services while Manchester leaders are reviewing a proposal.

Gov. Maggie Hassan, an Uber customer, told the group that the legislature is considering “a bill that would help ensure that Uber and other ride-sharing companies have a permanent home here in New Hampshire and across the state.

“This bill also takes steps to ensure that there is an adequate process for background checks, and it is important that we continue to work on these provisions as well as the bill makes it way through the legislative process,” Hassan said.

Mike Skelton, president and CEO of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said his chamber and several others around the state back House Bill 1697.

Uber driver Bob Haas, 69, of Stratham called Uber’s background check extensive.

“I don’t know how much more checking they could do,” Haas said in an interview. “When you have human beings involved, you always have the possibility someone can go nuts.”

Plouffe said the company requires criminal background and driving record checks before drivers are hired.

Uber’s website notes that riders learn about their driver on a smartphone app, including their name, license plate number, photo and rating from other riders.

The Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen sent a proposed city ordinance regulating ride-hailing companies such as Uber to the aldermanic Committee on Bills for Second Reading for review. The draft ordinance comes seven months after aldermen issued an ultimatum to Uber drivers that, for the most part, has been ignored.

The ordinance addresses several concerns raised last year by city officials, including required background checks, city licensing of drivers and random drug and alcohol tests. The new ordinance also requires transportation network services like Uber to have a physical place of business located within 12 miles of City Hall, where officials can send notices of hearings or other notices from the city.

The changes require a company and driver registration process, a background verification process and driver compliance with the city’s current drug and alcohol program for the taxi fleet. Other changes would accommodate more economical midsize cars and SUVs, and make the currently required protective partition optional in each vehicle.

Reuters and Union Leader reporter Paul Feely contributed to this story.

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