Boston Taxi Group Files Federal Lawsuit Over State's New Ride-Hailing Law

A driver displaying Lyft and Uber stickers on his front windshield. (Richard Vogel/AP)
A driver displaying Lyft and Uber stickers on his front windshield. (Richard Vogel/AP)

A local taxi industry group is taking its fight against the state's new ride-hailing law to federal court.

The Boston Taxi Owners Association filed a federal lawsuit Friday arguing that the law, which regulates companies such as Uber and Lyft, is unfair to taxis. The suit was filed against state officials, including Gov. Charlie Baker, who signed the law in August.

Jenifer Pinkham, an attorney for the Boston Taxi Owners Association, said the ride-hailing law creates an uneven playing field between taxis and ride-hailing companies, or what the law refers to as transportation network companies (TNCs).

"This particular law allows for there to be less burdens, less fees, less requirements on so called TNCs — Uber, Lyft and other companies — and taxis continue to have to be regulated by cities and towns and they face very heavy burdens, fees and it's very difficult for them to compete against the TNCs," Pinkham said.

It's a complaint the local taxi industry has been putting forth in recent years, as ride-hailing services have become more popular and taxi ridership has declined. There are already similar lawsuits pending against the city of Boston and the city of Cambridge over regulation of ride-hailing companies.

The newly filed suit claims the state's ride-hailing law creates "economic disparity" and is unconstitutional because it "violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment."

"You cannot have similarly situated business treated differently," Pinkham said. "For instance, if you have a Chinese restaurant and an Italian restaurant, they would need to have the same regulations. They provide the same service, which is food delivery and restaurant services. In just the same way, TNCs and taxis are providing the same services — that being transportation for hire services."

Lawmakers passed the ride-hailing bill in the final moments of the 2015-2016 legislative session. The new law requires ride-hailing companies to have two-part background checks for their drivers — one that is conducted by the companies themselves, and one that is conducted by the state. The law doesn’t require drivers to be fingerprinted — something that many, including those in the taxi industry, wanted. Boston taxi drivers are required to be fingerprinted.

The law also requires ride-hailing companies to pay a 20-cent fee per ride, which will go toward helping the taxi industry adopt new technology. That fee will be in place for 10 years and can’t be passed onto riders.

Steve Goldberg, the president of the Boston Taxi Drivers Association, said the law doesn't do enough to regulate ride-hailing companies, and taxis still face higher costs and fees. There are 1,825 licensed cabs in Boston "going against an unlimited number of TNC vehicles that don't have the overhead and basically at any given moment are allowed to undercut our fares," Goldberg said. "We feel that the new state law basically doesn’t do anything to control that while we’re stuck in a very strong regulatory framework and we’re just looking for some fairness in the ride-for-hire industry."

Goldberg said his group wants to see the law stopped or amended.

The governor's office said it doesn't generally comment on pending litigation, but expressed satisfaction with the ride-hailing law.

"Governor Baker, in collaboration from the legislature, was pleased to recently sign legislation establishing a regulatory framework for transportation network companies that didn’t previously exist and prioritizing public safety, including some of the strongest ride-for-hire background check systems in the nation," Baker's press secretary Billy Pitman said in a statement.

Lyft and Uber would not comment on the lawsuit.

The ride-hailing law is set to go into affect next year.


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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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