Uber's vetting process under scrutiny after Michigan shootings

A mass shooting in Michigan over the weekend has reignited concerns here in Ottawa over how the app-based ride-booking service Uber vets its drivers.

Shooting suspect signed on with Uber last month, garnered positive reviews from passengers

Jason Dalton of Kalamazoo Township, Mich., is arraigned via video before Judge Christopher T. Haenicke, Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, in Kalamazoo, Mich. Dalton is charged with multiple counts of murder in a series of random shootings in western Michigan. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

A mass shooting in Michigan over the weekend has reignited concerns over how the app-based ride-booking service Uber vet their drivers.

Jason Dalton, the suspect in the Saturday shooting deaths of six people in Kalamazoo, Mich., had recently become an Uber driver. On Monday prosecutors say Dalton admitted to carrying out the seemingly random attacks and laid murder charges against him.

But U.S.-based Uber said on Monday it would not be changing the way it screened its drivers following the shooting rampage. Uber security chief Joe Sullivan said that Dalton had received "very favorable" feedback on the app from previous riders.

No previous criminal record

Dalton also had no previous criminal record before he became an Uber driver on Jan. 25.
"There were no red flags, if you will, that we could anticipate something like this," said Sullivan.

University of Ottawa professor Gilles Levasseur has done extensive research into Uber. He said the company needs to revamp its screening process to better protect the public, and should include a face-to-face interview with potential drivers. 

"[They] need to go further. There needs to be either a direct interview, or a process to make sure that people that are actually going to be using this service are secure."

Drivers screened, but not interviewed

Gilles Levasseur, a professor of business and law at the University of Ottawa, has conducted extensive research into app-based ride-booking services such as Uber. (Steve Fischer/CBC)
CBC spoke with a couple of Ottawa Uber drivers about the incident. Neither wanted to be identified.

They said Uber did screen them through a police and driver record check but did not interview them in person before signing them up as drivers.

One said a friend had recently been turned down by Uber because he had several driving infractions on his record.

The owner of Ottawa cab company Coventry Connections said his drivers must complete a five-week taxi course at Algonquin College, and are vetted in person before they're hired.

"We sit down with the driver and go through our policy and procedures. We are careful in testing that driver to see if he can become eligible" to drive a taxi, Hanif Patni said.

Patni has been outspoken in his criticism of Uber's safety practices, and he has repeatedly called for better enforcement of taxi bylaws.

Ed Davis, a former police commissioner from Boston who serves on Uber's Safety Advisory Board, told the Associated Press Uber's system of background checks is safe and that no system could have foreseen what happened in Michigan.

"A background check is just that. It does not foresee the future," Davis said.

With files from The Associated Press