Senators Roll Out New Ride-Hailing Legislation

The Massachusetts Senate proposed regulations for ride-for-hire companies in a bill that will be taken up Wednesday. (Richard Vogel/AP)
The Massachusetts Senate proposed regulations for ride-for-hire companies in a bill that will be taken up Wednesday. (Richard Vogel/AP)

More than three months after the House passed legislation regulating ride-for-hire companies like Uber and Lyft, Senate leaders on Thursday will release a new version of the bill that abandons restrictions on operation at Logan Airport and the South Boston convention center as well as state-run background checks of drivers.

The Senate bill, put together by a working group of five Democratic senators, would also levy a 10-cent-per ride assessment on ride-hailing companies, the cost of which could not be passed on to customers.

The money -- which could total more than $200,000 a month -- would be returned to cities and towns where those trips originate to help pay for wear on infrastructure like roads and bridges and other transportation-related investments, according to a Senate source familiar with the legislation.

As the popularity of app-based ride-hailing services has increased, Massachusetts lawmakers have been grappling over how to regulate the new industry and protect riders and the livelihoods of taxi cab drivers who have been threatened by the convenience of the new technology.

The Senate bill will be released Thursday by the Senate Ways and Means Committee, and is expected to reach the floor of the Senate for debate sometime next week. The final version was put together by Ways and Means Chair Karen Spilka and Sens. Jamie Eldridge, Eric Lesser, William Brownsberger and Linda Dorcena Forry.

Like the House bill, the Senate will propose to set up a new division within the Department of Public Utilities to oversee the new transportation companies, including the issuance of permits and compliance with rules and regulations.

Background checks of drivers, however, would be conducted solely by the ride-hailing companies with guidance from the agency, rather than the dual state and company background checks proposed in the House bill. The companies would also be in charge of issuing decals to be displayed on ride-for-hire vehicles, eliminating some of the bureaucracy in the House bill that Uber warned could be too burdensome and time consuming.

The new agency would be required to maintain a roster of all drivers and make that list available to law enforcement on request. Drivers for companies like Uber and Lyft would also be prohibited from picking up passengers at cab stands or street hails, and the companies would be required to offer a feature through their apps for riders to tip their drivers, a significant change from the current Uber experience where tipping is not encouraged.

One of the more controversial aspects of the House bill (H 4049) was a five-year ban on drivers for companies like Uber and Lyft from picking up passengers at Logan Airport or the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.

While House leaders defended the exclusivity at those locations for taxis as repayment for the industry's contribution to the original construction of the BCEC, Uber and convention center officials blasted the idea as an unwarranted perk for the cab industry that could hurt convention business.

The Senate bill does not address the idea of protection zones for taxis, meaning Uber and Lyft could continue to operate at the BCEC and Massport would retain control of the airport. Currently, only certain drivers for app-based services with commercial plates, such as Uber Black cars, can pick up passengers at Logan.

There are also broad areas of agreement between the House and Senate, according to the Senate source.

The Senate bill, like the House's, opted against requiring fingerprinting of drivers, which has jeopardized the continued operation of Uber in some states. The tiered insurance requirements are also similar in both bills and would required products with different levels of coverage and responsibility depending on whether a driver has a passenger or simply has the app turned on in their car.

Surge pricing -- the practice of charging more for a ride at time of peak demand -- would be prohibited in the Senate bill, as the House proposed, during declared state or federal emergencies, and companies would be required to offer riders an estimate of the total cost of a ride during times of surge pricing.



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