At a time when travel is down during the pandemic, local taxi and limousine services are getting funding to enhance their appeal.
MassDevelopment, one of the state’s quasi-public economic development agencies, on Thursday announced it has awarded 85 grants totaling nearly $4.5 million to dozens of businesses operating in the taxi and livery industries. The funds are intended to help those businesses become more competitive in the for-hire transportation space dominated by companies such as Uber and Lyft in recent years.
MassDevelopment announced the program in August and took applications for about a month; small businesses could apply for up to $50,000 and industry associations could apply for up to $1 million. The grants are intended to help transportation companies across the state pay for technology and safety improvements, from smartphone-enabled ride-hailing systems to personal protective equipment to limit the spread of viruses.
“These awards will assist taxi and livery operators by equipping them with the tools they need to advance their service, safety, and operational capabilities,” said Lauren Liss, president of MassDevelopment, in a press release.
About 20 small businesses were awarded the maximum $50,000 grant. Two trade associates that do work in Massachusetts — the Transportation Alliance, Inc. and the New England Livery Association, Inc. — received grants for $1 million. Those groups can spend up to $200,000 on marketing efforts to promote the industry.
Mike Kennealy, the state’s housing and economic development secretary, called the effort a way to support “critical adjustments” that will allow the industry to “operate with the health and safety of both their workers and customers in mind.”
Funding for the grants came from the state’s Transportation Infrastructure Enhancement Trust Fund, which was created when Governor Charlie Baker signed a transportation law in 2016. Since then, “transportation network companies,” such as Uber and Lyft, have been paying 20 cents for every ride in Massachusetts, with a nickel going to MassDevelopment to support modernization of the industry they aim to disrupt. (The other 15 cents goes to cities and towns for transportation needs and the state’s transportation fund.)
MassDevelopment will continue collecting these funds until the end of 2021.