AUSTIN (KXAN) — If someone is banned from driving for a ride-hailing company in Austin, there is no reporting system in place to automatically notify other companies, KXAN has learned.
Before HB100 passed last May, giving the State of Texas regulatory authority over ride-hailing companies, that oversight rested at the city level. During that time, whenever a driver was arrested, charged with a crime or denied a license to operate for any reason, all ride-hailing companies received notification from the Austin Transportation Department.
“At that point, the rideshare companies like us would be notified and make a decision to deactivate the driver accordingly,” Fasten said.
The state overruled those local policies.
Still, there was a gray area. If no police report was filed, that notification system was not triggered. No such system currently exists at the state level.
This became clear when a father recently reached out to KXAN, saying his 22-year-old daughter’s Fasten driver “asked her if she wanted to prostitute herself saying that he could get her $200 for 20 minutes.”
“My first emotion I guess was shock and then it was fury,” Frank Edwards said, saying his daughter was distraught and even more shocked. “I just wanted to get my hands on this guy.”
Edwards’ oldest daughter had hailed a Fasten for his youngest to get home last week. Fasten said after investigating the complaint, reviewing driver and rider histories, it permanently removed the driver from its platform. But KXAN Investigates wanted to know whether anything would prevent this individual from driving for another company, especially considering no police report was filed.
Fasten says it repeatedly expressed concerns about a central notification system going away during HB100 hearings, “because this type of central system obviously provides increased safety for riders.”
Fasten says it now has to rely on competitors to provide information if it suspends one of its drivers. KXAN reached out to Lyft, Uber and RideAustin, in addition to Fasten, and learned sometimes this happens. Sometimes it doesn’t. Bottom line? There’s nothing requiring that type of information sharing.
Edwards said he couldn’t comprehend how someone with this behavior could be cleared to drive for a rideshare company.
“This is just wrong on so many levels,” he said. “If this happens to one person, it can happen to a lot.”
Turns out, RideAustin, another ride-hailing company, did know. The non-profit says it permanently kicked the driver off its platform three months ago.
“We did receive an alert from the city that he was ineligible to drive,” Bobbi Kommineni with RideAustin said.
KXAN was able to obtain the name of the driver Edwards complained about and found Yeniel Morejon was arrested for DWI and charged with felony possession of cocaine at the same time RideAustin banned him from driving, back in November.
So here’s why RideAustin knew he was a potentially problematic driver and Fasten didn’t: RideAustin is currently the only rideshare in Austin that requires its drivers to get a fingerprint-based chauffeur permit.
“It’s a little bit of extra process for drivers to go through, they have to go to the city, they have to go through the fingerprinting, they have to provide a certified driving record and then they have to take a 20-question test on basically passenger safety, customer service and traffic laws,” Kommineni explained.
Because of that connection with the city, RideAustin benefits from the Austin Transportation Department flagging drivers who are ineligible to drive — in real time. RideAustin just doesn’t get specifics about what exactly makes the driver ineligible.
“We’ve always felt this was a very important safety factor to provide the community, as we want to ensure the most timely information on driver eligibility,” Kommineni said.
Other background checks typically only happen once a year. So Morejon was able to continue driving for Fasten until Edwards submitted the complaint.
“We contacted the Austin Transportation Department and expressed a desire to continue fingerprinting – however, the only way this is currently feasible is to require that our drivers obtain a chauffeur’s license. If it was possible for us to continue fingerprinting without this licensing requirement, we would certainly be willing to do so,” Fasten CEO Kirill Evdakov said via email.
The company explained that when it comes to a chauffeur’s permit, it feels the requirement would put an “unfair burden on drivers” to make people who often work part-time go through the same processes as a full-time taxi or limo driver.
“We can’t ask 10,000 part-time drivers to become professional chauffeurs,” Evdakov said.
Evdakov explained in Massachusetts, the company conducts background checks on drivers every six months, as the law requires. “In Austin, there is no such frequency requirement for rideshares. We conduct a rigorous background check when a driver registers with Fasten. We will re-run background checks occasionally, typically when a driver is inactive for a period of time,” he said.
RideAustin says if there’s a better way to share data among rideshares, its open to having that conversation.
“I mean we want to have a safe city. And if somebody’s not on our platform because of a serious reason, maybe they shouldn’t be driving with the other rideshares as well. And I think vice versa,” Kommineni said.
Edwards says he’s just a protective father. One who wants local and state leaders to look out for the community, as he looks out for his family. “I want people to be aware of this. I want the companies to be aware of it. And I want them to vet these people properly,’ Edwards said, even suggesting rideshare drivers should have dash cams in their vehicles.
Looking on the state’s website, it’s clearly spelled out the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) oversees ride-hailing companies, but it’s up to those companies to monitor their drivers. The state suggests consumers provide feedback on the app if there’s an issue, as Edwards’ daughter did, and submit driver complaints directly to the company.
KXAN asked Fasten, Ride Austin, Uber and Lyft how many drivers they have banned from their platforms since oversight went to the state but none would share that information.
Fasten said its reason is this: “Drivers can also be deactivated either temporarily or permanently for a variety of reasons that are not necessarily related to rider safety. They may need to clean their vehicle or simply update documentation, for example.”
Following up on two cases of drivers accused of sexually assaulting riders, KXAN learned jury selection for Osmani Limonta-Diaz is scheduled for next month. He’s accused of sexually assaulting a woman he gave ride to in 2017. RideAustin says it notified other ride-hailing companies around town because he drove for multiple companies.
Angel Interial drove for Lyft and is accused of attacking an intoxicated woman he gave a ride home to in 2015. Because of a delay in DNA testing, he was not arrested until 2017.