Critics of ride-hailing services said the case of a Boston man with a long history of driving offenses who was arrested for dragging two police officers with his SUV highlighted the need for tougher regulations for Uber and similar companies.
Bryant Gilbert was not employed by Uber at the time of his arrest, but did perform rides for a short time in the months preceding the incident, the company confirmed Tuesday.
But the ride-hailing service, which is headquartered in San Francisco, did not respond to numerous requests to verify the length of Gilbert's employment, or detail how a convicted felon with history of driving infractions passed a company background check.
Uber spokeswoman Kayla Whaling said the company's specific safety processes for vetting drivers could not be disclosed for "privacy reasons."
Gilbert would have been immediately denied for an application to become a taxi driver, said Donna Blythe-Shaw of the Boston Taxi Drivers Association
Blythe-Shaw, who is lobbying Governor Charlie Baker for tougher regulations on ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft, said this lack of transparency from ride-hailing services endangers public safety.
She said that if taxi drivers commit crimes, regulatory agencies and public officials have a readily available database with names and addresses of drivers.
"Our position has been clear all along. These are companies who don't have any regulations. And when you request it, they ignore you," Blythe-Shaw said. "This would have never happened with Boston cab drivers."
Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans has called on Uber to implement extensive background checks and fingerprinting of its drivers, which goes beyond current regulations for taxi drivers.
"We recognize the benefit" of Uber, Evans said in September. "All we're asking is to make these safety changes."
Since 1994, records show that Gilbert has received more than 20 traffic citations, including numerous suspensions of his driver's license. In one year, Gilbert was found to be at fault for vehicle crashes in Dorchester and Roslindale, and had road infractions in Quincy, Dorchester, Seekonk, and Bridgewater.
Gilbert was incarcerated in federal prison from 2005 to May 2014 for a drug possession conviction, his fourth since 1991.
"This is a perfect example. It quantifies that they hire anybody and everybody," Blythe-Shaw said of ride-hailing services. "And more of this is going to happen until the Legislature and law enforcement put their foot down on Uber and Lyft."
Ride-hailing companies were at the center of a contentious committee hearing at the State House in September, when four bills were debated before Legislature's Finance Committee.
Baker's preferred legislation called for the Department of Public Utilities to oversee the ride-hailing services, and would force the companies to regularly submit a roster of drivers and addresses. The proposed law would also require services to subject drivers to two criminal background checks, though it is unclear which criminal offenses would disqualify an applicant from becoming a driver.
When reached by telephone on Tuesday, a spokesman from Baker's office said several offenses might disqualify an applicant from being a driver under the legislation. If the bill is approved, those offenses would be outlined by the public utilities agency.
The taxi driver's union supports legislation proposed by Senator Linda Dorcena Forry of Dorchester and Representative Michael Moran of Brighton, both Democrats. The two have countered Baker's proposal with a bill that would force ride-hailing services to buy costly commercial insurance policies.
Blythe-Shaw said the utilities department does not have the capacity to adequately regulate Uber, Lyft, and other companies.
"Businesses like Uber need to comply with current state regulations," she said. "They should be certified, and they should be licensed."
Gilbert was not employed by Uber at the time of his arrest on Sunday because he had been removed from the ride-sharing platform "several weeks ago" after the company learned of his criminal background, Whaling said.
But by the time of Gilbert's removal, he had driven an unknown quantity of Bostonians for an unknown amount of time.