Uber reverses ban on Pa. drivers with drug records

After new background checks, drivers may take passengers only within Philadelphia.

Cherri Gregg
June 12, 2018 - 1:55 pm
Thomas Daniels, Uber driver

Cherri Gregg/KYW Newsradio

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Uber is changing course after barring a number of Pennsylvanians with old drug convictions from driving for its ride-hailing service. 

The original decision was based on a Delaware law that prohibits individuals with certain types of drug convictions from working as drivers. So back in April, Uber began blocking roughly a half-dozen Pennsylvania drivers with old criminal drug records from working with the app on the grounds that they could possibly pick up or drop off passengers in Delaware.

"It was called a pre-adverse letter, and it listed all of my convictions on it," said Thomas Daniels, who drove for Uber for nearly two years and had four-star reviews. "Some of the convictions were from 23 years ago. For others, it was 28 years," Daniels said.

Daniels received clemency for some of his drug crimes in 2015 from President Barack Obama. He was excited when he returned to society and saw Uber as an opportunity. He says he was shocked when he got the note from Uber banning him from the app. In fact, he was angry.

"If I can make clemency through Barack Obama, how can I not work for Uber?" said Daniels. "Who are you?"

Daniels says he called the local newspaper, who called Uber. The company then back-pedaled, asking Daniels to take his job back.

Michael Hollander, supervising attorney with Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, says the problem is that the Delaware law Uber based its decision on conflicts with Pennsylvania law, as well as with ordinances in Philadelphia.

"Most of those drivers [who were barred] are driving in Philadelphia and the Philadelphia suburbs," said Hollander. "They're not going into Delaware."

Now Uber will re-run the background checks of the drivers who had been barred from the app under Pennsylvania law.

An Uber spokesperson said the number of drivers impacted is small — less than a half dozen. If they pass, they will be permitted to drive in the Commonwealth by only taking passengers with pick-up and drop-off points in Philadelphia.

"They'll just be restricted in the app from picking up passengers in Delaware," said Hollander.

He disputes the likely impact, noting that there are "many more — perhaps hundreds." 

"We just represent six people who were kicked off," Hollander added.

A spokesperson from Uber said that the decision to re-open their app applies only to drivers who had previously worked for Uber. It's unclear whether new drivers with old convictions will be permitted, because passenger safety is the company's first priority.