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Boston taxi owners sue Boston over allowing Uber, Lyft to operate

A lawsuit filed by a group of taxi owners accuses Boston of allowing services like Uber and Lyft to unfairly and illegally operate in the city.

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A lawsuit filed by a group of taxi owners accuses Boston of allowing services like Uber and Lyft to unfairly and illegally operate in the city.

A group of taxi owners is suing the City of Boston, accusing officials of violating their constitutional rights by allowing ride-hailing services, such as Uber and Lyft, to unfairly and illegally operate within the city, according to a federal lawsuit filed Friday.

In the lawsuit, two taxi owners, Raphael Ophir and Joseph Pierre, and an industry group, the Boston Taxi Owners Association, accuse the city of destroying the value of their taxi medallions — which allow a company to operate cabs in the city, and can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars — and ask the court to force drivers with the ride-hailing services to be subject to the same regulations their operations face.

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“The City has . . . permitted the de facto taxi companies to flout the law with open impunity by deploying an invasion of unlicensed cars and drivers with no requirement of any medallion” or other city taxi regulations, the lawsuit said.

The taxi owners also are asking for unspecified monetary damages.

Jenifer Pinkham, the taxi owners’ lawyer, said her clients just want a level playing field with services such as Uber and Lyft, which let patrons arrange rides through online apps.

“The city has truly just turned a blind eye in allowing them to operate in the city,” she said.

Pinkham said her clients have faced significant hardships because of competition with such ride-hailing services. Pierre recently had to refinance the loan on his medallion after lost business left him unable to make his payments, she said.

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Melina Schuler, a spokeswoman for Boston, said the city had not received the complaint Friday, but officials would review it once it arrives.

The lawsuit is the latest move in a long-running battle between taxis and services such as Uber, which has been available in Boston since 2011. Recent allegations of sexual assault involving women using Uber have fanned the flames of the debate, with detractors saying ride-hailing services need to be subject to more stringent regulations.

In the lawsuit, filed in US District Court in Boston, the taxi owners say the city is violating the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because ride-hailing operations provide the same services as their companies, but are treated differently.

“That the de facto taxi companies dispatch the car and driver via smartphone does not distinguish their business activity from that of traditional taxis, which also now use smartphones,” the suit states.

The lawsuit also takes aim at recent state regulations for ride-hailing services proposed by the outgoing Patrick administration and filed with the secretary of state’s office.

Under those regulations, which would need legislative action to be enforced, services such as Uber and Lyft would be categorized as “transportation network companies” and would be regulated by the state Department of Public Utilities.

The taxi owners say those regulations would “create an irrational, two-tiered regulatory system that unconstitutionally harms the economic property interests of taxicab medallion owners and drivers.” On Friday, the taxi owners also filed an emergency motion, asking the court to stop the state from enacting the regulations.

Despite moves toward state oversight for the ride-hailing companies, Boston has convened a 24-person advisory committee dedicated to examining regulations for taxis and services such as Uber and Lyft.

In the past, Mayor Martin J. Walsh has signaled some support for the ride-hailing services, saying innovative companies such as Uber should not be condemned.

Just days ago, Uber announced a partnership with the city to share trip-level data that could help urban planners gauge transportation needs.

William Evans, Boston’s police commissioner; the Department of Public Utilities; the state Department of Transportation; and Secretary of State William F. Galvin are all named as codefendants in the lawsuit.

Related:

Cab drivers decry Patrick’s proposed ride-share regulations at hearing

Cambridge mulls rules that would regulate Uber

Boston taxi drivers say Uber threatens their livelihoods

Cab drivers irate as ban against livery app reversed

Tom Keane: Uver vs. taxis: An ugly endgame awaits

John E. Sununu: Uber isn’t the problem; taxi regulations are

VIDEO: Taxi drivers protest against Uber, Lyft as City Council discusses possible regulations

Nicole Dungca can be reached at nicole.dungca@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ndungca.
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