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State issues initial regulations for ride-sharing operations

Taxi advocates protest decision, contending separate rules give rivals unfair advantage

MassDOT representatives listened to speakers Wednesday at a hearing on regulating ride-sharing services. The state issued its first regulations for ride-sharing services on Friday.
MassDOT representatives listened to speakers Wednesday at a hearing on regulating ride-sharing services. The state issued its first regulations for ride-sharing services on Friday.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

In a move that paves the way for legal recognition of ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft in Massachusetts, state transportation officials released new regulations on Friday governing the services, inflaming taxi operators who say the new companies are being given license to unfairly compete.

The new rules — which require drivers to show proof of insurance and undergo background checks, among other things — are a first step in a “robust process” that will ultimately yield additional regulations for the popular services, said Cyndi Roy Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation.

Advocates for hackney operators, who are regulated by municipal governments and must pay for expensive medallions in order to offer taxi services, immediately jumped on the action as a rushed attempt to legitimize the companies, which use smartphone apps to connect passengers and drivers.

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Stephen Regan, spokesman for the Massachusetts Regional Taxi Advocacy Group, said the move would prove to be a “stain” on Governor Deval Patrick’s administration, which he accused of failing to carefully consider the safety of passengers.

“You have a last-minute hearing by an outgoing governor to make major regulatory changes, as confusing as they are,” he said.

Meanwhile, Meghan V. Joyce, general manager of Uber’s Boston operation, applauded the Transportation Department’s decision on Friday, saying the new regulations represent an “important step forward in establishing clear, uniform rules for ridesharing” across the state.

She said it provided a necessary framework for “rider and driver safety, and consumer choice and opportunity.”

Under the new rules filed with the secretary of state’s office Friday, companies would need to obtain certificates through the state Department of Public Utilities, require drivers to show proof of insurance, and conduct national background checks on drivers, who would be barred if found to have convictions for a variety of crimes or major traffic violations in the last 10 years.

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Uber and Lyft perform background checks, but screen drivers for the last seven years.

The Department of Public Utilities would be in charge of a category of vehicle operators called “transportation network companies” under the new regulations. The term has been used in other states, such as California, to encompass ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft; they allow the companies to operate under separate regulations from taxicabs and similar services.

The rules also clarified that ride-share drivers would need personal car insurance, and limited the definition of a transportation network company vehicle to a “personal passenger vehicle.”

The regulations cannot be enforced until state lawmakers pass additional legislation designating the Department of Public Utilities as overseer of the services. But starting on Jan. 16, the department can issue temporary notices allowing the companies to operate until such legislation is passed.

The taxi industry has decried such ride-sharing services since Uber first burst onto the Boston transportation scene in 2011. Taxi advocates have pushed for municipalities and the state to get such ride-share services off the streets, saying they provide the same services as taxis but are not subjected to the same stringent industry regulations.

But the services have become increasingly popular as a quick and typically less expensive alternative to taxis. Andearly last month the Patrick administration put forward a proposal to allow the industry to grow while following certain standards for safety and insurance coverage.

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At an emotional and raucous public hearing about the proposal on Wednesday, taxi advocates flooded a conference room at the State Transportation Building on Stuart Street.

After critics decried the process as rushed, MassDOT officials allowed additional comments from 10 a.m. to noon on Friday.

Regan, speaking for the regional taxi advocacy group, said he hopes the incoming governor, Charlie Baker, can restart the regulatory process for ride-share companies. However, Baker has signaled his support for such services.

Tim Buckley, a Baker spokesman, said the new governor believes it’s appropriate to regulate companies such as Uber and Lyft to make sure the drivers are properly screened and have proper insurance.

“Technology-driven ride-share programs could have significant benefits and the governor-elect hopes there is a place for these companies and taxis in Massachusetts,” Buckley wrote in an e-mail.

Related:

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

Uber, Lyft save big by avoiding regulations

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


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