Governor Charlie Baker Wednesday called for stricter oversight of the ride-hailing industry, proposing to toughen penalties on drivers who stalk customers or falsify accounts, and collecting more data to understand how Uber and Lyft contribute to the region’s traffic congestion.
Legislation unveiled by the governor would make it a crime for drivers working for so-called transportation network companies, or TNCs, to use customers’ personal account information to stalk or harass them, and would impose jail time of up to 2 ½ years for the practice of “account renting,” where uncertified drivers use the accounts of registered ones.
The new safety provisions come amid “disturbing reports across the country of criminal incidents involving rideshare drivers,” Baker said.
“People of all ages rely on TNCs at all hours to get to work, go to meetings, or catch a ride home from the airport late at night. In any circumstance, people must feel safe while hailing a ride-share vehicle and after they’ve arrived at their final destination,” he said.
Baker pointed to an incident at Logan International Airport last April where a man unlawfully used another driver’s ride-hailing account. Baker said the man was later found to have a violent criminal history in two other states.
His proposal also comes two months after the Globe published the account of a young woman who was stalked by an Uber driver and the difficulties she had in obtaining a restraining order against him.
In addition, the legislation would establish stiffer penalties on drivers who fail to maintain updated driver or background check certificates, fail to display required decals, or fail to maintain adequate insurance.
“This bill enhances public safety, provides necessary information to transportation planners, will maintain confidentiality, and reduces administrative burdens on our cities and towns,” Baker said.
The governor’s measure was welcomed by Boston City Councilor Ed Flynn, who has called for hearings into Uber’s and Lyft’s practices in the city. The ride-sharing companies are probably due for additional oversight, Flynn said, because too many of their drivers are ignoring basic traffic laws.
“I see a lot of double-parking, pulling over in the middle of the street or in a bus lane or bike lane, so those are safety issues,” said Flynn.
Baker’s proposal would also require ride-hailing companies to provide data on where rides originate and end, as well as the total distance and time a driver takes to pick up a rider and then complete the ride.
A spokeswoman for Lyft indicated the company would oppose the data-collection requirements. “We have concerns with the extensive data the administration is asking for, as we believe it may put the privacy of our rider community at risk,” the spokeswoman, Campbell Matthews, said.
Uber, meanwhile, was more noncommittal in its public statement on the governor’s proposal, saying it anticipated “working with him and the Legislature to implement measures to enhance the safety of Massachusetts riders and drivers.”
Baker said Wednesday that the data would be shared “anonymously and confidentially” with state agencies, cities and towns, and planning organizations for planning purposes. Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Kathleen Theoharides said the data would not be made public.
Massachusetts State Police Lieutenant Colonel Robert Favuzza said the State Police have seen an increase in TNC drivers. “Anecdotally, over the past few years, we at the State Police have seen an increase in the number of TNC vehicles that pass through our regular sobriety checkpoints,” Favuzza said. “With increased usage comes the need for greater oversight.”
Spokespeople for House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Karen Spilka said their respective chambers would review the bill, but offered no additional comment.
Baker’s proposal comes as Uber and Lyft usage in Massachusetts is surging to the point where transportation activists say the services need to be reined in. Ride-hailing services combined for 81.3 million rides across Massachusetts during 2018, a 25 percent increase from the previous year, according to data collected by the Department of Public Utilities.
The sheer number of Uber and Lyft rides at Logan prompted the Massachusetts Port Authority to ban the services from curbside at the terminals during most of the day, diverting them to a central dropoff location in the parking garages.
Baker has said he supports the restrictions because they would cut down on traffic congestion at the airport and in East Boston, and on Wednesday he cited the increased usage numbers to explain his proposal. “As the industry continues to grow and remain a popular mode of transportation, the Commonwealth’s responsibility to ensure the safety of riders and our communities grows with it,” he said.
Baker’s proposal would be the first major update to the state’s oversight of the industry since the 2016 law that imposed background checks and other regulations on Uber and Lyft drivers.
Notably, he did not include in his new proposal any suggested increase in the 20-cents-per ride fee that Uber and Lyft currently pay the state and local governments. Boston Mayor Martin Walsh has proposed increasing and staggering the fee.