If Governor Deval Patrick is successful in his last-minute push for state regulation of ride-sharing services, businesses such as Uber and Lyft might have to dig deeper into the backgrounds of potential drivers, a Globe review of their existing policies shows.
But transportation watchers say the new rules could help the companies in their debate with the traditional taxi industry, whose representatives argue that ride-share services operate with unfair advantages and are dangerous because they are not subject to stringent industry regulations.
Uber and Lyft are two of the most popular ride-sharing services, which allow customers to use applications on their smartphones to summon drivers and pay them directly. Across the country, battles are raging to regulate the companies.
The Patrick administration wants to help such companies grow, while following a basic standard “in a way that both supports innovation and consumer choice and ensures public safety,” Jesse Mermell, a spokeswoman for the governor, said
But Stephen Regan, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Regional Taxi Advocacy Group, said he sees the governor’s plan as an attempt “to legitimize what even they now acknowledge is a business model that’s not in compliance with the law.”
In Boston, as in other major cities across the country, the taxi industry has waged a strong campaign against ride-sharing services, saying their lack of transparency and regulation should become a public safety issue. Critics cite the hammer-wielding Uber driver in San Francisco who attacked a customer and an Uber driver accused of striking and killing a 6-year-old girl with a car also in San Francisco
Late Monday night, Boston police said they were investigating three separate reports of assaults of women early Sunday who had arranged transportation from ride-share companies.
Police did not identify the company or companies the women contacted but said the incidents occurred between roughly 1 and 3 a.m. in Dorchester, the Allston-Brighton area, and an unspecified location between Faneuil Hall and Dorchester.
One driver is alleged to have touched a woman inappropriately, a second attempted to do so, and a third allegedly indecently assaulted a female, police said. In one case, the woman was in the suspect’s car when she received a text from the actual ride-share driver she had arranged to meet.
The regulations proposed by the Patrick administration would require ride-sharing companies to conduct national background checks and bar drivers with convictions within 10 years for “crimes of violence, sexual abuse, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, hit and run, attempting to evade the police, driving with a suspended or revoked license, felony robbery, or felony fraud.” The companies would also be required to ban all registered sex offenders.
Those rules appear to coincide with what Uber and Lyft say they’re already doing. The main difference is that they currently do a background check for convictions in the past seven years.
Boston taxi drivers, according to regulations set by the city’s Hackney Carriage Unit, are subject to a background check that dates back only five years. But their advocates say taxi companies do a better job than services such as Uber and Lyft at screening out bad drivers, using law enforcement agencies to conduct checks rather than private background check companies. Uber, for example, uses a company called Hirease, and Lyft uses SterlingBackcheck.
Patrick’s move for statewide regulation in Massachusetts follows a playbook other states have used. California, the home of both Uber and Lyft, became the first to regulate ride-sharing services on the statewide level.
Ride-sharing services came under the aegis of California Public Utilities Commission, which allowed Uber and Lyft to operate their vehicles under new rules for “transportation network companies” rather than be subject to the regulations for existing taxi companies or other “for-hire” driving services
The new rules proposed by Patrick’s administration would also create a “transportation network company” category and name the Department of Public Utilities as chief regulator.
Uber’s efforts to gain legal legitimacy have been aided by several of Patrick’s most prominent political advisers.
In September 2012, the company hired Doug Rubin, Patrick’s former chief of staff , to lobby the administration as the company entered the Massachusetts market.
State records show Uber paid Rubin $5,000 for his work in January 2013 and that Rubin reported speaking with the undersecretary of the Office of Consumer Affairs & Business Regulation, as well as with members of the governor’s staff about helping Uber.
Rubin’s contract with Uber ended early last year and, on Wednesday, he said he was not involved in helping Patrick draft his rules to support the company.
This year, Uber has reported spending $37,500 to lobby Massachusetts lawmakers and regulators, including $30,000 to Beacon Strategies Group, a firm that includes Michael Morris, Patrick’s former director of government affairs, and Clare Kelly, a former Patrick political operative.
In August, the company hired David Plouffe, President Obama’s campaign manager in 2008 and a strategist for Patrick’s campaigns in 2006 and 2010, to be its senior vice president for policy and strategy, in charge of fending off stringent regulations nationwide.
Patrick aides have said the governor has not spoken to Plouffe about Uber rules.
In October, Uber’s chief executive, Travis Kalanick, traveled to Boston and helped present the governor with the first annual Deval L. Patrick Commonwealth Innovation Award, sponsored by MassChallenge, a technology organization.
The Patrick administration plans to issue the new regulations unilaterally, but they cannot be enforced until the Legislature grants regulatory power to the Department of Public Utilities.