Palm Springs Proposes That Uber, Lyft Drivers Submit To Drug Tests

By McCarton Ackerman 11/07/16

The city of Palm Springs is fighting for tougher regulations on the ride-sharing services.

Palm Springs Proposes That Uber, Lyft Drivers Submit To Drug Tests

The California desert city of Palm Springs is moving forward with an ordinance that would demand drivers for ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft to submit to random alcohol and drug testing in order to pick passengers up from the Palm Springs International Airport.

The Desert Sun reported that the city council voted 3-1 last Wednesday to move the ordinance to a second reading. If approved, a $3 surcharge would be added to all airport pickups that could generate an extra $30,000 in revenue per year, according to the city.

Ride-sharing companies are currently allowed to drop passengers off at the airport. But only Uber’s premium services such as UberBLACK and UberLUX, which use professional drivers who already undergo alcohol and drug screening, may pick passengers up at the terminal. Those who are taking a standard Uber service must walk off airport property to meet their driver.

Uber spokesperson Eva Behrend said the ordinance could be problematic because many of their drivers are part-time workers. If they’re not available for drug testing during normal business hours due to other commitments, they’re effectively out of a job.

“Policies like these have a real and negative impact on people’s lives,” she said, according to the Desert Sun. Behrend also assured that Uber has a zero-tolerance policy for drivers using alcohol or drugs on the job. 

Lyft spokesperson Kirk Safford urged council members to work with them in exploring alternative options, declaring that “if this ordinance passes as is, we will not reach an agreement to operate [at] Palm Springs International Airport.”

Other cities have refused to budge. The two ride-sharing companies no longer operate in Austin, Texas, after voters rejected their proposal to self-regulate their drivers, instead demanding mandatory fingerprint background checks. Uber acquiesced in New York City and agreed to go through the same licensing process as their taxi and limo drivers.

“They want to come into our community on their terms, not working with us or the other transportation organizations,” said Palm Springs council member J.R. Roberts. “I just don’t understand this.”

In March 2015, California state Assemblyman Adrian Nazarian announced a bill that would mandate drug testing and fingerprint-based background checks for all Uber and Lyft drivers in the state.

“Rideshare companies … should welcome and embrace the opportunity to show consumers how safe and friendly their drivers can be, while providing an affordable and technology-driven transportation service,” he said to LA Weekly after putting the bill forward. “Who would be against making sure your driver is not a convicted felon or a reckless driver?”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.