State bill would toughen rules for ride-hailing firms
Two Boston lawmakers on Monday filed a bill that would require stricter regulations on companies such as Uber and Lyft, just months after Governor Charlie Baker proposed legislation that would allow the companies’ drivers to operate under a new category of state supervision.
Like Baker’s legislation, the bill proposed on Monday legitimizes ride-hailing companies by creating a legal term for them: “transportation network companies.” But the bill, which is backed by taxi industry supporters, goes further than Baker’s legislation by introducing regulations that would more closely mirror those that govern the taxi and livery industry.
The bill would require Uber and Lyft drivers to obtain more expensive commercial insurance, register their cars as livery vehicles, and participate in more stringent background checks that would involve taking fingerprints. State Senator Linda Dorcena-Forry, who cosponsored the bill with Representative Michael J. Moran, said she proposed the legislation to add to the conversation about ride-hailing regulations.
The proposed legislation drew criticism from Uber spokesman Taylor Bennett, who called it a “deliberate attempt to protect a monopoly that has repeatedly failed consumers, and will do nothing but destroy the thousands of jobs ride sharing creates.”
Dorcena-Forry, a Dorchester Democrat, disagreed with the characterization. “This is not about killing the industry and it’s not about eliminating jobs,” she said. “It’s about safety and it’s about fairness.”
Local taxi industry advocates have fought ride-hailing companies since Uber first began operating in Massachusetts in 2011, arguing that the new companies were not subject to the same regulations as taxis, even though they provided the same services.
Critics of Uber and Lyft have seized upon harrowing allegations involving ride-hailing drivers, such as the former Uber driver who was recently accused of several sexual assaults in the Boston area.
In Boston, Uber and Lyft currently conduct background checks through private companies, but critics argue that those aren’t stringent enough to provide the safest ride for passengers. In Boston, the police department conducts background checks of prospective taxicab drivers.
The legislation filed on Monday would require ride-hailing drivers to undergo a background check involving fingerprints. Baker’s legislation would require two criminal background checks, but does not explicitly require such fingerprint checks.
In addition, the legislation would require Uber and Lyft drivers to obtain commercial insurance, which is required of taxi and livery drivers in Boston. Baker’s legislation would allow Uber and Lyft drivers to keep personal insurance policies for their vehicles, as long as the company provides commercial insurance during any rides with customers.
The legislation filed Monday joins a handful of other bills by other Massachusetts lawmakers that propose ways to regulate the industry. Elizabeth Guyton, the press secretary for Baker, said he will “carefully review the legislation that reaches his desk.”
Stephen Regan, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Regional Taxi Advocacy Group, said the bill is not designed to attack Uber and Lyft, or competitors of taxi and livery drivers. “We’d just like to make sure everyone is playing to as close as the same rules as possible.”
Regan has spoken strongly against Uber and Lyft in the past, but acknowledged that ride-hailing services have established themselves and would be difficult to stop.
“The reality is that Uber and Lyft have been able to operate for so long that it is difficult for elected officials to shut them down,” he said.
Moran, the Brighton Democrat who cosponsored the bill, said he is not interested in picking sides between ride-hailing services and the taxi industry. He just wants to make sure drivers are properly vetted, he said.