Boston City Council Moves To Regulate Ride-Sharing Services

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In this Jan. 4, 2013 file photo, Lyft passenger Christina Shatzen gets into a car driven by Nancy Tcheou, in San Francisco. (Jeff Chiu/AP)
In this Jan. 4, 2013 file photo, Lyft passenger Christina Shatzen gets into a car driven by Nancy Tcheou, in San Francisco. (Jeff Chiu/AP)

The Boston City Council appears to be moving toward some type of regulation for ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft.

These unregulated services have become a major competitor to the heavily regulated taxi industry.

Councilors are focusing on "peer-to-peer" ride sharing, in which regular people use their own cars to offer rides.

Calling For A Ban

A few dozen taxi drivers rallied outside of City Hall before Monday's hearing, calling for the city to ban ride-sharing services such as UberX and Lyft.

"They’re sucking the blood of the taxi drivers," said Malik Abbas, who has been a taxi driver in Boston since 1991.

Abbas says the new and popular smartphone ride-sharing apps mean fewer fares for taxi drivers like him.

"Financially, we cannot make money," he said. "I don’t want UberX coming over here stealing our jobs."

Inside city council chambers, taxi drivers filled one bank of gallery seats. Cramming another: ride-sharing drivers, many wearing trademark pink T-shirts for Lyft’s service.

Council President Bill Linehan said changes are coming.

"We haven’t figured out a true, level-played framework for us to operate rides-for-hire in our city," he said. "So we need to make adjustments."

Councilor Sal LaMattina held up a stack of paper, saying he’s never gotten so many emails ahead of a council hearing.

"And I have to be honest with you," he said. "There weren’t many emails of people supporting taxis. There’s all Uber supporters. OK?"

LaMattina said he uses Uber, and he likes being able to track his daughter’s progress on his smartphone when she uses it.

A Focus On Public Safety 

The city council heard from members of the Taxi Advisory Committee that Mayor Marty Walsh recently formed. One member is Capt. Jim Gaughan with the Hackney Unit of the Boston Police Department. He said public safety is the biggest concern.

"We have no idea who’s driving, for instance, Councilor LaMattina’s daughter, when she’s getting a ride home at 2 a.m.," Gaughan said.

And he said taxis are subject to inspections and commercial insurance requirements that UberX and Lyft drivers are not. Taxis are also subject to licensing fees and credit card charges that go to the city and help fund regulators — something Councilor Timothy McCarthy wanted to know more about from Christopher English with the mayor’s office.

"So, ballpark, how much does the city make in revenue on taxis?" McCarthy asked.

"Uh, that’s a good question," English replied.

After the hearing, drivers for Lyft said they thought some new regulations like special IDs and licenses on ride-sharing cars are not unreasonable. But private drivers said putting them in the same boat as taxis will put them out of work.

Uber spokesman Taylor Bennett said his company welcomes responsible municipal regulations — but not ones designed to protect the taxi industry.

"We’re coming in with an alternative that consumers love," he said. "Bostonians — they’re voting with their fingertips by downloading the app and taking rides every day. There’s a real need to develop a regulatory framework that applies to ride-sharing and Uber’s business model that brings more choice and opportunity."

It’s early in the process. There are no specific proposed regulations yet on the table.

This segment aired on December 2, 2014.

Curt Nickisch Business & Technology Reporter
Curt Nickisch was formerly WBUR's business and technology reporter.



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