One week after Madison officials criticized the ride-hailing service Uber for not giving police information about two drivers accused of making unwanted sexual advances on passengers, state regulators say they will be able to more easily access that information under a law signed by Gov. Scott Walker on Friday.
Wisconsin’s Department of Safety and Professional Services started the process of writing administrative rules for the smartphone-based ride service industry on Monday, spokeswoman Hannah Zillmer said.
The state law regulating transportation network companies, as businesses such as Uber and competitor Lyft are classified, places far fewer restrictions on them than does an ordinance passed by the city of Madison in March. Mayor Paul Soglin and other officials have criticized the regulations, and have complained that the law bars municipalities from enacting their own rules for the companies — pre-empting ordinances such as Madison’s and preventing local control of the industry.
Another criticism of the companies emerged early last week, when Madison police investigating reports that two Uber drivers had inappropriately touched female passengers in incidents the previous weekend said the company refused to identify those drivers unless authorities produced a subpoena or search warrant.
When he signed the bill into law late Friday, however, Walker’s office said the governor directed state regulators “to clarify the intent of the law” and ensure that authorities have access to driver information.
Zillmer said Monday that part of the licensing requirements for ride-hailing services will be that companies must provide drivers’ information without a court order to state regulators investigating complaints. That information can then be shared with local law enforcement who also may be investigating allegations of misconduct against a driver, Zillmer said. “These companies are required to give that information to us if we have a relevant complaint.”
The requirement will be part of the rules Safety and Professional Services will write for the ride-hailing app industry in the coming weeks — a process that will involve oversight from the Legislature and input from the public, Zillmer said. The agency will also be responsible for licensing the companies and investigating complaints against them.
Though Zillmer did not have an estimate for how long the process will take, she said, “We want to get these rules effective as soon as possible.”
Soglin said the requirement that companies provide driver information will be an improvement over how Uber responded to Madison police last week. The mayor has accused the company of stonewalling the police investigation, and said Uber’s conduct made him question the safety of the ride-sharing service.
Madison police spokesman Joel DeSpain said the department has “made progress” in identifying the drivers involved, but no arrests have been made in either case. Uber deactivated both drivers from the service, officials said.
Soglin also said he wants to see state rules for the services go much further, with restrictions on the companies’ ability to raise prices at times of peak demand and requirements for driver background checks conducted by police, rather than the businesses themselves.
The law does not include those provisions.
“The bill obviously is inadequate,” Soglin said. “We’ve known that since the beginning.”
Local legislators similarly criticized the law — Madison Rep. Lisa Subeck called it the weakest example of state ride-hailing regulations in the country, and blasted how Walker announced that he had signed it. A press release from the governor’s office breaking news of the law’s signature was sent out at 10:34 p.m. Friday.
“The governor chose to ignore the very real public safety consequences of this legislation when he signed the bill in secret,” Subeck said. “No legislation that is good for the people of Wisconsin gets signed at 10:30 on a Friday night.”
Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick on Monday apologized for the late announcement. The governor signed the bill Friday evening, after he attended tourism events around Wisconsin, and the release announcing the new law was written afterward, Patrick said.