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House Chair: Ride-Hailing Bill Could Also Reshape Taxi Laws

Taxi drivers sit during a hearing Tuesday at the State House on the regulation of ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft. (Steven Senne/AP)
Taxi drivers sit during a hearing Tuesday at the State House on the regulation of ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft. (Steven Senne/AP)
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A modernization of the taxi cab industry could be integrated into legislative efforts to regulate ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, according to a House lawmaker who will play a significant role in shaping the future of a bill that aims to "level the playing field" for cabs and alternative ride-for-hire services.

"I don't think it's appropriate to talk about the future of transportation network companies [or TNCs, a term the state is using to describe services like Uber and Lyft] without talking about the future of cabs," North End Democrat Rep. Aaron Michlewitz told the News Service on Wednesday.

Citing the patchwork of cab regulations from city to city, Michlewitz said, "Modernizing the taxi industry would be something we're investigating."

“I don’t think it’s appropriate to talk about the future of transportation network companies without talking about the future of cabs."

Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, House co-chair of the Financial Services Committee

After listening to more than 11 hours of testimony on Tuesday, Michlewitz, the House co-chair of the Financial Services Committee, said there is no definitive timetable for a final bill to regulate the rapidly growing ride-hailing industry to emerge for a vote in the House.

"There's a clock to this, but we'd rather get it right than do something fast," he said.

The hearing on Tuesday, which drew hundreds of drivers and advocates for Uber, Lyft and the cab industry to the State House, lasted from 11 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. when at least a handful of lawmakers on the committee were still on hand to listen to testimony.

Senate President Stanley Rosenberg even made a brief appearance, walking into the Gardner Auditorium around 9 p.m. and grabbing a seat to listen to some of the patient people who waited hours to testify.

Michlewitz called the hearing "time well spent," and despite several eruptions of cheers and jeers from the crowd, he said, "It was the most civil and respectful hearing on this I've seen so far."

Two of the major issues confronting the committee are how to handle background checks and insurance for TNC drivers. Uber officials on Tuesday called a fingerprinting requirement and a mandate that drivers procure their own commercial insurance "poison pills." Those provisions are in a bill filed by Rep. Michael Moran and Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry. Uber prefers legislation filed by Gov. Charlie Baker.

Despite Uber warning that regulatory overreach could impact its ability to operate in Massachusetts, Michlewitz said, "I'm more worried about the consumer and the people using TNCs and making sure they're safe and taken care of."

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