Two recent sexual assaults involving women seeking late-night rides highlight the need for Boston to have oversight on app-based ride-hailing services, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said Monday.
Early Sunday morning, Boston police received two different reports from female victims who said they had arranged for so-called rideshare services for transportation, and after entering vehicles and sitting up front both were sexually assaulted by male drivers.
Investigators are uncertain whether the drivers were the ride-hailing services the women summoned.
As lawmakers seek to construct a regulatory framework for the novel industry linking drivers and riders through smartphone apps, ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft have touted their own security apparatus, which they say prevents dangerous criminals from working with them and picking up fares.
The House passed a bill (H 4064) on March 9 providing dual industry and state background checks of drivers and foregoing a proposed provision that would require drivers to submit fingerprints. The Senate has yet to move forward on its bill.
Noting the city has jurisdiction over taxi and livery companies — two industries that have chafed at their new app-based competition — Walsh said he hoped the Senate would provide municipalities with oversight and enforcement of ride-hailing companies.
"This is one of the concerns I have with the bill in the Legislature that one of the components of the bill that's not in there that allows the city of Boston to do some of our own, put some of our own restrictions on there," Walsh said when asked about the two assaults. "Hopefully we can work with the Senate side now."
Boston has initiated fingerprinting for all of its taxi drivers. Walsh said he was not calling for the bill to include a fingerprinting requirement, but he wants local enforcement.
"In the bill that came out of the House unfortunately we have zero ability to do background checks or do any type of enforcement on our side," Walsh told reporters during the opening of the new Government Center subway station.
Ed Davis, the former Boston police commissioner who now works as a security consultant for Uber, said the current safety system is "sufficient" though he is open to ideas.
"There are incidents that happen in the city every night and we work hard to try to stop them from happening, and you know what, if you were to show me something that would stop that from happening, I'd be all over it," Davis told the News Service. "But I don't know what they're talking about that would stop somebody from that type of an encounter."
Boston police declined to release information beyond an alert to the public, telling the News Service police reports of the incident are classified.
The alert said one victim traveling from Government Center said she entered a black sports utility vehicle, believing it was the ride she had hailed, and was allegedly sexually assaulted in the front seat. The other victim was picked up in the Fenway area and allegedly told by the driver that he was not her ride but would drive her wherever she wanted to go before he allegedly sexually assaulted her in the front seat.
"That could happen to anybody in a barroom or in any place, right? You can bump into someone who misrepresents themself. You have to use caution when you're moving around a city," Davis said of the incidents. He said, "I don't know that by dividing it up city by city that's the answer to the problem. What exactly are they going to do?"
Davis noted the checks Uber has in place so passengers can verify the identity of the person behind the wheel.
"The system that's in place right now is very safe. The fact that you know who's coming to pick you up, you have a license-plate number, you have a picture of the driver, is sufficient. And I don't think that anybody has shown me a better way to do it," Davis said.
Both incidents were reported around 3 a.m. on Sunday. The MBTA last weekend stopped running its after-hours weekend service, and Uber has offered a flat rate of $5 over the next few weeks to carry passengers in its shared pool service from 12:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. between MBTA subway stops.
The bill was sent to Senate Ways and Means and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg has signaled his own favorable view of including a fingerprinting requirement.