One day after accusing the ride-hailing service Uber of lying to him, Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans renewed his call Thursday for the company to implement “extensive background” checks and fingerprinting of its drivers to protect customer safety.
Speaking after a memorial service for a fallen officer, Evans also called on Uber to add identifying markers on its drivers’ vehicles and to ensure that the cars are properly inspected.
“We recognize the benefit” of Uber, Evans said. “All we’re asking is to make these safety changes.”
But while Evans has repeatedly called for Uber to fingerprint its drivers, he conceded Thursday that the Police Department Hackney Unit, which oversees the taxi industry, does not fingerprint Boston cab drivers.
“Right now, we’re ready to roll out our computers to do that,” Evans said. He said he hopes that will happen within the next couple of months.
Evans’ predecessor, Edward F. Davis, who currently works as an adviser for Uber, said that while he supports some of Evans’s suggestions, fingerprinting presents “huge logistical problems.”
Asked to elaborate, Davis said at least 12,000 people would need to be fingerprinted in the taxi and ride-hailing industries. “That’s an enormous task,” he said.
Davis has provided security services to The Boston Globe.
He said he has spoken with Evans about the relevant safety issues and hopes to have an in-person meeting with him in the future. The former commissioner declined to say whether he believes police should inspect ride-hailing vehicles twice a year, as they do for taxis.
He did say, however, that taxis are used “24 hours a day, seven days a week, like a police cruiser. That’s not really the way Uber operates.”
The comments on fingerprinting came after remarks that Evans made on WGBH radio Wednesday, when he alleged that Uber officials “out and out lied” to him when they said the company inspects its drivers’ vehicles.
Uber strongly disputed Evans’s claim, insisting police were informed that the company relies on state-mandated inspections for most of its cars. The company said it also informed police when it stopped inspecting limousines enrolled in its UberBLACK program, opting instead to rely on the state inspections.
In addition, Uber has repeatedly defended its safety standards and maintains on its website that drivers “are screened through a process that includes county, federal, and multistate criminal background checks.”
The dialogue over safety comes as state lawmakers are considering bills to tighten regulations of Uber, Lyft, and other ride-hailing companies that have exploded in popularity in recent years.
One proposal from Governor Charlie Baker’s administration would allow ride-hailing companies to operate much as they currently do, but under state supervision. Another bill from state Senator Linda Dorcena Forry of Dorchester and state Representative Michael Moran of Brighton has provisions to require drivers to get fingerprinted for background checks and carry commercial insurance policies.
Meghan Joyce, regional general manager for Uber East Coast, praised Baker’s bill in a statement Thursday night.
“The reality is, public safety and innovation are not mutually exclusive, and the Governor’s bill recognizes that innovation can actually help make people safer.”