By Mack Hogan and Rowan Walrath, news staff
After the Massachusetts State House passed new legislation regulating ride-sharing companies on Wednesday, March 9, ride-sharing companies and taxi groups are dissatisfied with the compromises.
The bill, which will soon be debated in the State Senate, creates a new oversight body and regulatory framework for ride-sharing companies like Lyft, Uber and Fasten, according to Boston Magazine. If signed into law, the bill would require drivers for ride-sharing companies to undergo two background checks, force companies to carry at least $1 million in insurance liability on every vehicle in use and mandate ride-sharing companies be properly identified while in service.
The measure also contains language banning surge pricing that coincides with a public emergency. However, taxi officials remain unsatisfied with the bill because it does not require ride-sharing drivers to undergo the same level of fingerprinting that taxi drivers do. Fingerprinting may still make it into the final version of the bill, however, as Sen. President Stanley Rosenberg has voiced his support for the provision, according to WGBH.
Gabriel Melendez, a driver for ride-sharing companies Fasten and Uber, believes too much of the burden of regulation lies on taxis.
“I don’t think it’s about Uber or Fasten being under-regulated. I think the taxis are over-regulated,” Melendez said. “I do think it’s unfair that taxis are required to be hybrids, but I don’t think the way to solve that is kicking Uber out of the Boston Convention Center.”
Melendez is alluding to wording in the bill that would impose a five-year ban on ride-sharing companies from picking up fares at Logan International Airport and the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. Ride-sharing vehicles are currently required to have livery plates to pick up fares at the airport because of a law prohibiting private vehicles from charging.
“Who needs a ride most? People in a new city that just got in,” Melendez said. “Banning ride sharing from airports just doesn’t make sense.”
Daniel Hetzel, a freshman mechanical engineering major at Northeastern University (NU), thinks the way taxis operate is part of the problem. He prefers services like Uber for their convenience.
“If you’re trying to support the taxi business, banning Uber from the airport and the convention center makes sense,” Hetzel said. “But I think the bigger issue is that the taxi industry needs to change. If it was as easy and cheap to take a taxi, I’d be taking a taxi.”
Nick Fong, a freshman mechanical engineering major, also prefers ride-sharing services.
“The main reason I think I like Uber is because if there is any confusion around pickups you can immediately contact the driver and clear things up,” Fong said. “I feel way less pressure to tip an Uber driver or a Lyft driver. You don’t have to confront it and make it awkward. […] Taxis also don’t offer any option like UberPool or Lyft Line, which makes it way cheaper if you aren’t in a rush.”
UberPool and Lyft Line are services Uber and Lyft offer, respectively, that enable riders to share their cars with strangers. The fares are generally several dollars cheaper than UberX or Lyft, the companies’ standard services.
Some NU students, like Laura Hobbs, a freshman industrial engineering major, would like to see ride-sharing drivers undergo greater scrutiny during the hiring process.
“If you’re getting into a car with someone, there needs to be some sort of security,” she said. “Uber, right now, has no real interview process. It’s all through paperwork. […] This is either a way to force these companies out of Massachusetts or to force them to become taxis.”
In a March 8 press release, Uber expressed concerns that the bill would obstruct the ride-sharing industry’s progress.
“Uber has proven that technology can grow our cities with improved transportation options that reflect our values as an innovative, forward-thinking state,” the press release stated. “With many concerns still on the table, we look forward to discussing these challenges laid out below with legislators and their staff. The legislature has an opportunity to set the standard nationally for [Transportation Network Company] (TNC) bills. We look forward to working with them to inform a bill that can set the national standard.”
Fong believes ride-sharing companies need to be allowed room to grow – whether taxi groups protest or not.
“The important question is whether the price difference between taxis and Uber comes down to the cost of the regulation,” Fong said. “I don’t think it matters whether or not the regulations are fair to taxis. People always come up with new ideas that may be seen as unfair to others. The world moves on.”
Photo by Scotty Schenck