Baker won’t say if he will sign the new Uber, Lyft regulations
<?EM-dummyText [Drophead goes here] ?>
Boston's police commissioner on Monday sharply criticized ride-hailing legislation passed by the House and Senate for not requiring drivers to be fingerprinted, while struggling taxi drivers complained the measure could force them out of business.
But Uber and Lyft praised the bill, saying it would protect the public and increase convenience by allowing their drivers to pick up passengers at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center and, with the right permits, at Logan International Airport.
Governor Charlie Baker said he was pleased the legislation had reached his desk after a frenzied late-night session Sunday, but would not say if he plans to sign it.
"I don't think we're going to speak to any of the details until we have a chance to read them," he told reporters Monday.
The Legislature's action emerges as state lawmakers across the country struggle with how to regulate elements of the so-called sharing economy, which offer new options for customers even as they have hurt traditional industries and eroded job stability for some workers.
The legislation mandates that Uber and Lyft drivers undergo background checks, to be conducted by the ride-hailing companies and by the state. But it does not require them to be fingerprinted, as Boston cab drivers are.
And it would impose a fee of 20 cents per ride on the companies, with the proceeds split among municipalities, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, and a fund to help the taxi industry adapt to changing technology. It was unclear Monday how much money the new fee would raise.
The bill was one of the most heavily contested proposals of the legislative session, providing a windfall for Beacon Hill lobbyists, who scooped up more than $1.4 million in fees last year alone.
Boston's police commissioner, William B. Evans, said lawmakers who voted for the measure placed a higher value on corporate profits than public safety by failing to require the fingerprinting of Uber and Lyft drivers.
"I don't think you can put a price on making sure people driving the vehicles are as safe as possible," Evans said. "I think it wasn't much of an ask on fingerprints."
Evans said he had seen fingerprinting keep bad cabdrivers off the streets — including some who had sex offenses in their past and one who had been accused of attempted murder.
He said background checks may not catch people who are using false identification.
"There's no better gold standard than the fingerprint," he said. "We're looking for violent offenders who have sexual histories or violent histories. That's all we want to weed out here."
Asked if he was concerned that the bill does not require fingerprinting, Baker said:
"We believe it's critically important that there be a substantial and ongoing background check process. There was a lot of debate about what the best way to get that done was, and I'm not going to speak to the specifics of this until we have a chance to review the bill."
Lyft spokesman Adrian Durbin urged Baker to sign the measure into law.
"We are pleased that the Legislature came to an agreement on common-sense legislation that sets high safety standards while keeping modern transportation options like Lyft available across the Bay State," he said in a statement.
Uber spokeswoman Carlie Waibel also applauded the Legislature. "Massachusetts joins 34 other states that have established rules for this important industry," she said. "After a lengthy legislative session, we look forward to addressing remaining policy concerns in the regulatory process."
Thomas P. Glynn, chief executive of the Massachusetts Port Authority, said the airport would be ready to accommodate Uber and Lyft within three months of Baker's signing the bill. He said the airport plans to have the drivers wait in a separate pool at Logan and pick up passengers in the limo area.
Boston cab drivers make about 6,000 trips a day to and from Logan. Only UberSUV and UberBLACK — the company's luxury service — can pick up at Logan now, and they make about 500 to 1,000 airport trips per day, Glynn said.
Taxi drivers and their advocates talked of strikes and protests in response to the bill, which they said would devastate their industry by sapping their bread-and-butter airport business.
"Is the taxi industry as we know it dead? Yes, I believe it is," said Donna Blythe-Shaw, retired staff representative for the Boston Taxi Drivers Association. "There is just no way they can recover from this legislation."
She said the bill should prompt City Hall to set up a commission to overhaul the antiquated taxi medallion system and examine ways to help cabs compete amid fast-shifting technology.
For taxi drivers, the right to pick up passengers at Logan and the convention center "was the only thing holding them together and keeping them afloat," Blythe-Shaw said.
Bob Turner, a Boston cabdriver since 1993, said ride-hailing services should be held to the same standards as city cabdrivers.
"Ask yourself one question: Why would any Uber driver be concerned about having his fingerprints on record?" Turner said. "Every cabdriver does that. So why wouldn't they?"
Chando Souffrant, a longtime cabdriver who owns two taxi medallions, pointed out that the convention center was financed in part with proceeds from two taxi medallion auctions the City of Boston held in 1999 and 2000.
"That is our investment," Souffrant said. "We're going to have to go on strike. It is unfair."
Passengers who use ride-hailing services took a generally upbeat view of the legislation.
"It would be amazing to have that option out of Logan," said Dana Linnes, 26, a South Boston resident who works at an advertising agency. She said she usually pays $30 to take a taxi home from Logan and would prefer to use Uber, if it saves her money.
"That's one of the things I feel has been missing at Logan," she said.
But Rachel Kramer, a 21-year-old Tufts student, said she was concerned the bill did not include fingerprint checks for drivers.
"I feel more comfortable getting in a taxi," she said, knowing that the driver has undergone a governmental background check and is using a clearly marked car. But when an Uber driver approaches in his own car, "something about it still feels weird," she said.