Arrest of Columbia Uber driver highlights change in background checks

The arrest of a mid-Missouri man who was an Uber driver has rekindled debate about the stringency of statewide regulation for ride-hailing services.

Anthony Todd Rowell, who was arrested Tuesday in connection with an attempted abduction in Columbia, drove for Uber, according to a social media post. In 2010, Rowell had a year-long restraining order taken out against him for adult abuse without stalking.

In Missouri, Uber is solely responsible for checking into the backgrounds of people who want to drive since the passage of a law last April that superseded Columbia’s more stringent ordinance.

Columbia  had required that background checks for ride-hailing drivers be approved through the city and that drivers be held to the same standards as those who drive for taxi companies.

Columbia Police Department Public Information Officer Bryana Larimer said Friday the department was aware Rowell was an Uber driver and that Uber was cooperating with the investigation.

Uber was unreachable Thursday to answer questions about whether Rowell had undergone a background check.

In an interview Friday, Third Ward City Councilman Karl Skala said the ordinance Columbia passed was intended to “meet the community’s request for adequate governance of clear safety concerns.” It required Uber drivers — like taxi drivers — to undergo a background check and have their vehicle inspected by the city.

The legislation passed last year and signed into law by Gov. Eric Greitens left background checks to the ride-hailing companies. Greitens said the law would open local economies up to vehicle-for-hire companies such as Uber and Lyft.

According to its website, Uber conducts criminal background checks going back seven years on applicants. The checks are conducted by a third party, which is accredited by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners.

Read more: Columbia Missourian

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