Bills To Regulate Uber And Lyft Head To State House, Here's What You Need To Know

A smartphone is mounted on the glass of an Uber car. (Rafiq Maqbool/AP)
A smartphone is mounted on the glass of an Uber car. (Rafiq Maqbool/AP)

The battle between ride-hailing services — such as Uber and Lyft — and taxi companies is playing out on Beacon Hill.

The Legislature's Joint Committee on Financial Services held a public hearing Tuesday to discuss four bills that aim to regulate the increasingly popular app-powered transportation services.

One of the bills being considered was filed by the Republican Gov. Charlie Baker and has Uber's support. Another bill was written by Rep. Michael Moran and Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry, two Democrats, and has the support of the taxi industry.

Taxi companies in Boston and across the country say ride-hailing services should have to follow the same regulations taxis face. Ride-hailing services have expressed support for what Uber calls "smart legislation."

Here's a look at the key provisions in the four bills that were discussed:

Baker's bill

Key issue(s):
Public safety, insurance coverage

What's in the bill:
Baker's bill would require ride-hailing companies to obtain a permit from the state to operate. The bill would give the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) the authority to develop and enforce regulations for ride-hailing companies, or what the state calls "transportation network companies."

The legislation would require criminal background checks for drivers. Lyft and Uber already conduct criminal background checks. Baker's bill, however, would require a two-part background check: one by ride-hailing companies and one by state regulators. The background checks include state and national criminal databases, sex offender records and driving records. Ride-hailing companies would be responsible for vetting drivers and submitting background check information to the DPU for review.

The ride-hailing companies would also be required to keep an up-to-date roster of drivers and have clear company signage displayed on vehicles picking up passengers. Vehicles must be registered with the state and be inspected yearly.

Baker's bill would also require drivers to be at least 21 years old and have a driver certificate from the ride-hailing company.

The governor's legislation also seeks to remedy potential insurance gaps for those traveling in ride-for-hire vehicles. Ride-hailing companies would be required to carry at least $1 million in liability insurance per ride.

The bill would also establish a five-member municipal advisory group to work with the DPU as it develops regulations. The group, appointed by the governor, would include one representative each from Boston, Cambridge and Somerville.

Under the bill, drivers and ride-hailing companies could face citations, fines or have a permit or license revoked for violating regulations.

Read the bill

Moran and Forry's bill

Key issue(s):
Public safety

What's in the bill:
Moran and Forry's bill mirrors Baker's bill in many ways, but goes a step further on background checks and includes some regulations similar to those that govern the taxi industry.

On background checks, the bill calls for Uber and Lyft drivers to be fingerprinted and run through state and national databases. Fingerprints would be submitted to state police for a state criminal check and sent to the FBI for a national criminal check.

The Moran-Forry bill also calls for ride-hailing vehicles to have commercial insurance — which Boston taxis are required to have — of at least $1 million in bodily injury coverage. Uninsured motorist coverage would also be required at $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident. Ride-hailing vehicles would have to be registered as livery vehicles and have commercial license plates.

The bill also calls for ride-hailing drivers to submit to random drug testing as a condition of employment. Vehicles would have to be no more than five years old. And the bill would prohibit drivers from operating at the airport unless authorized to do so, and would restrict ride-hailing companies from surge pricing based on supply and demand for vehicles.

The bill also outlines guidelines for making ride-hailing services accessible to persons with disabilities. The legislation would require companies to: have at least one wheelchair-accessible vehicle per 100 vehicles in a service area; give passengers a way to indicate they need wheelchair access; and arrange for riders to be picked up by an authorized wheelchair-accessible vehicle if it cannot provide one.

The legislation would also establish an 11-member task force to review current laws and regulations governing taxis and ride-hailing companies.

Like Baker's bill, drivers would have to be at least 21 years old, have a vehicle registered with the state, be authorized to provide ride-hailing services by the DPU, and have a certificate from a ride-hailing company identifying him or her as a valid driver. Companies would be required to have clearly marked vehicles and yearly vehicle inspections.

Drivers and ride-hailing companies could also face citations, fines or have a permit or license revoked for violating regulations under this bill.

Read the bill

Sen. James Timilty's bill

Key issue(s):
Insurance coverage

What's in the bill:
Another bill up for discussion comes from Timilty, a Walpole Democrat. His bill focuses on insurance coverage. Like the other bills, Timilty's legislation would require insurance coverage for the time when a driver accepts a ride request until the driver completes the ride.

The bill would require ride-hailing companies or their drivers to provide primary liability coverage of $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident for bodily injury or death, as well as property damage liability coverage of $50,000. The legislation also calls for companies to provide personal injury protection. It also has a requirement for uninsured motorist coverage similar to the Moran-Forry bill.

Timilty's bill differs from the other bills, however, by requiring insurance coverage for the time when a driver is logged into an app, but has not yet accepted a ride request.

Read the bill

Rep. William Pignatelli’s bill

Key issue(s):
Ride-hailing services

What's in the bill:
Pignatelli, a Lenox Democrat, also has a bill up for discussion. Like the other bills, Pigantelli's legislation calls for ride-hailing companies to be licensed by the state, but differs by requiring them to pay an annual permit fee of $5,000.

The bill would also allow people as young as 19 to be drivers for ride-hailing companies.

Under this legislation, ride-hailing companies would be responsible for all background checks, including state and national criminal databases, sex offender registry, driving records and multi-state/multi-jurisdiction criminal records. Like Baker's bill, companies would also be required to provide at least $1 million in liability insurance per ride.

Like the Moran-Forry bill, it also would require companies to accommodate people with disabilities, but would not require a specific number of wheelchair-accessible vehicles. The bill also wouldn't require companies to arrange rides for customers if it cannot provide wheelchair access. Instead, the bill says companies should direct riders to alternate service providers. The bill would also create a state fund consisting of an annual fee of no more than $10,000 that would be imposed on companies that fail to provide wheelchair-accessible service. The fund would only be used to expand wheelchair accessibility in the ride-hailing industry.

Read the bill


Zeninjor Enwemeka Senior Business Reporter
Zeninjor Enwemeka is a senior business reporter who covers business, tech and culture as part of WBUR's Bostonomix team, which focuses on the innovation economy.



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