Tag Archives: uber

BCPD Does Not Report Student’s Alleged Sexual Assault in September

Editor’s Note: It is come to our attention that there are multiple inaccuracies in this article. We are working on a correction and update, and will provide one as soon as possible.

According to Director of Safety John King, Boston College Police Department did not warn the BC community about the alleged rape of a BC student by an Uber driver in September after it received the news directly from the student because the crime was not committed in BCPD’s patrol jurisdiction.

The student was allegedly raped three times by Uber driver Luis Baez on Sept. 29. She was then dropped off at BC and went directly to BCPD to report the assault.

BCPD has warned students of assaults near campus in the past, including when a woman who had no affiliation with BC was attacked while running around the Chestnut Hill Reservoir in Jan. Reports then came out that the woman was hit by a falling tree branch and was not assaulted by another person.

Not reporting the rape is not a violation of the Clery Act, which requires universities to disclose information about crime on or near their campuses. Universities are only required to report crimes if they fall in their patrol jurisdictions.

“Institutions … must consider campus, noncampus [sic], public property, and locations within the patrol jurisdiction of the campus police or campus security department when recording crimes in the crime log,” the Clery Act reads. “[Patrol jurisdiction] refers to any property that is regularly patrolled by the campus public safety office.”

When BCPD received the report of the crime, they believed the crime took place outside of their patrol jurisdiction, somewhere else in Middlesex County, according to John King, chief of BCPD.

“The trigger is whether there is an imminent danger to people on campus property,” Frank LoMonte, a lawyer and the director of the Student Press Law Center, said in an email. “If the danger is not located on or immediately adjacent to the campus, then they aren’t legally obligated to report.”

It was at the discretion of BCPD to assess the imminence of the danger, and it believed that it was not worthwhile to report.

Several weeks later, BCPD learned the crime took place “on or near BC property,” according to King.

At this point, BCPD decided it would still not report the crime. According to the Clery Act, BCPD should have gone back and updated the crime log to reflect that the crime took place in their jurisdiction. There is no online record of the update.

“Periodically we will post security advisories when we believe the information will be helpful and informative to our community,” King said in an email. “I believe this to be consistent with the practices of most universities.”

Featured Image Courtesy of Graham Beck / Heights Staff

BCPD Should Have Reported Rape Incident

Editor’s Note: It is come to our attention that there are multiple inaccuracies in the article on which this editorial is based. We are working on a correction and update, and will provide one as soon as possible.

Several news outlets recently reported that a Boston College student was allegedly raped by an Uber driver in September. Court tapes acquired by The Boston Herald revealed that Luis Baez, driving for Uber under a fake name, raped the student three times in a parking lot and at other sites before dropping her back at her dorm on campus. The student then immediately went to the Boston College Police Department station to report the incident.

BCPD chose not to notify students on the night of the crime because, at the time, the incident was believed to have taken place within the jurisdiction of the Middlesex County Police, not BCPD. In an email to The Heights, BC Chief of Police John King, executive director of public safety and chief of BCPD, stated that “several weeks after the occurrence, it was determined that the incident likely happened on or near BC property.” Despite this realization, BCPD still chose not to report the event to the student body.

The Clery Act, passed in 1990, requires colleges and universities that receive federal funding to provide yearly reports of crime that took place on or near their campuses. The law states that schools must issue “timely warnings” and “emergency notifications” when an incident occurs that falls under the Clery Act and represents a continual threat to a school community. Because BCPD believed that the alleged assault did not take place within its jurisdiction at the time of reporting, it was not liable to report the incident. After learning that the event likely took place on or near BC’s campus, however, BCPD legally should have updated its police blotter to reflect the new information in compliance with Clery Act guidelines.

Moreover, it is undeniable that BCPD had a moral and ethical responsibility to make the student body aware of the incident as soon as possible after it was reported.

The fact that the BC community found out about the incident through court tapes and in the media, and not from its public safety organization, is deplorable. BCPD has a responsibility to make students aware of potential dangers to their safety, and the circumstances surrounding the incident make the department’s failure to release a warning especially alarming.

In particular, the crime took place in an Uber vehicle, which should have indicated that the incident warranted public reporting. This popular ride-hailing app is used by many BC students every weekend, and any danger associated with the service represents a danger to the BC community.

Although the University provides transportation on the Commonwealth Ave. buses to popular off-campus destinations, such as bars in Cleveland Circle like Agoro’s and Mary Ann’s, this service stops after 2 a.m. The T now closes at 12:30 a.m. as well. Students who want to stay out later should not have to restructure their evenings around public transportation, and often must rely on Uber to return to their dorms, houses, or apartments. This is not to mention the hundreds of student outings that take place outside the range of these buses in the city of Boston and other nearby areas.

The victim was trying to return back to campus, a situation that many BC students will find themselves in on any given Friday or Saturday. What occurred next, realistically, could have happened to any member of the student body, and therefore BCPD should have released an email or text message to students alerting them to the potential threat.

Following the crime, the alleged assailant drove the student back to BC’s campus. The fact that BCPD was made aware that a sexual predator had been on University grounds and chose not to release a warning to the BC community is not only baffling, but extremely concerning.

BCPD has reported incidents to students in the past, such as a sexual assault outside of 2000 Commonwealth Ave. and an alleged assault of a woman at the Chestnut Hill Reservoir. While these events are different because they occurred within BCPD’s jurisdiction, the threat posed to student safety remains the same.

BCPD’s “Procedures for Timely Warnings of Campus Crime” states that, “It shall be the responsibility of the Director of Public Safety for the Boston College Police, when a crime on or near the campus is reported, to promptly assess the potential danger or threat it presents to the campus community, or portions thereof.” If this is truly the procedure that was used when the incident in September was reported, then BCPD and King should have come to the conclusion that the safety of the student body was in jeopardy.

In light of the information currently available, and without knowing when the perpetrator was taken into custody, perhaps the only probable reason for BCPD not to release news of the incident was fear of bad publicity. If the department did not choose to alert students on the basis that the crime was committed outside its jurisdiction, certainly it should have informed the University community after it learned that the assault was most likely carried out on or near campus.

Rape is certainly still a taboo subject in today’s society, and news of the incident most likely would have spurred alarming headlines associated with the University. But if BCPD and the University administration fail to place the safety of students above BC’s public image, then they are failing not only in their jobs, but lacking in morality as well.

Reports: Uber Driver Charged With BC Student’s Rape in September

A female Boston College student was allegedly raped by an Uber driver in September, and then was dropped off back at BC, according to court tapes obtained by The Boston Herald.

The Boston Globe initially reported that a woman was sexually assaulted and dropped off at BC by the driver, but the leaked tape, which The Herald did not make public, revealed that the woman was a BC student.

The perpetrator, Luis Baez, raped the student in his Uber car on Sept. 29, 2016, while she was intoxicated, prosecutors said on Tuesday. She was allegedly raped three times, in a parking lot and at several other sites, before she was dropped off at BC. She then immediately reported the incident to the Boston College Police Department.

BCPD was unable to comment immediately at press time. The Office of the Dean of Students said it did not have any additional information to what was reported by The Globe.

Baez’s defense attorney, John Benzan, said his client denies the charges against him. He said he drove the woman for only 22 minutes and therefore claimed it was not possible he could have done what she alleged in that short a period of time.

The Middlesex district attorney’s office said Baez was driving under the name Pedro Valentin. He was ordered held on $2,500 cash bail and ordered to stay away from the BC campus.

The tape obtained by the Herald reveals that Newton District Court Judge Mary Beth Heffernan cut arguments short and demanded the defendant pay $2,500 bail instead of the prosecution’s request for $100,000 bail and GPS monitoring of Baez’s location.

Baez was known to be part of the Mozart Street Gang and had been previously prosecuted and deported. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials are looking for Baez but have not found him, according to The Herald. Massachusetts began using background checks in January on drivers for ride-hailing companies.

All-Female Rideshare Service Only Temporary Solution

SafeHer is a rideshare company in Boston that will be launching a female-only service nationwide. This means that every driver will be a woman and only females, transgender women, and males under the age of 13 will be accepted as passengers. The exclusive service was created in response to reports of assaults and other incidents perpetrated by male rideshare drivers against female passengers. With this in mind, this new company provides a useful service for the moment, and brings further attention to an important issue, but is not a sustainable solution to the problem of assault by ridesharing drivers.

Ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft are widely used at Boston College, and the dangers they sometimes present are very applicable to the student body. Providing women with a separate service is an immediate way to mitigate these dangers for the moment. It does not, in actuality, completely remove the potential danger. While less common, female aggressors still exist and a gender-separated ridesharing service would not entirely ensure safety. Some of these aggressors could even potentially take advantage of the heightened sense of security.

SafeHer still plays an important role in furthering attempts to reform the rideshare system. By providing an entirely separate service marketed around the faults of the more mainstream ridesharing companies, SafeHer presents a challenge to its competitors while also shedding more light on the issue at hand.

While these aspects are clearly positive, they are not permanent solutions to the problem.

Creating a separate space for women does not mean that the ridesharing system does not still need to be reformed. Women should not have to seek out a niche service in order to avoid the possibility of assault. The system itself should be reformed. Background checks should be expanded and rideshare drivers should be thoroughly vetted in order to prevent these crimes. Recent legislation in Massachusetts has already enforced criminal background checks and state certification for Uber and Lyft drivers. This is one step toward the ultimate goal of complete safety in ridesharing services. Further safety measures should be put into place to lower the possibility of danger.

SafeHer should serve as a wake-up call to Uber and Lyft. Female customers can now seek a separate, safer service as an alternative. From a purely practical perspective, this should demonstrate the importance of protecting female passengers from assault by drivers. When business is lost due to the dangers of the service, it is clear that action must be taken. Beyond that, the continued controversy surrounding these services is enhanced by the introduction of this alternative, putting more pressure on the mainstream services.

SafeHer remains only a short-term solution to the problem, as it is a relatively small attempt to deal with a flawed system. Women should be able to use the exact same services as men without concern. This will only be possible when an overall reform of the rideshare system takes place.

Featured Image by Mel Evans / AP Photo

New Background Check Regulation Tackles Ride-Sharing Safety

In a vote of 139 to 16, the Massachusetts House of Representatives finally approved the H.4049 bill, one of the most anticipated statutes of the legislative session, which would introduce a series of regulations on the ride-hailing industry that would affect both taxis and ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft.

The bill, which is awaiting approval from the State Senate and Governor Charlie Baker, requires drivers to undergo state certification and criminal background checks conducted by the newly established Ride for Hire division of the Department of Public Utilities. The bill additionally mandates that ride-hailing companies, formally referred to as Transportation Network Companies, conduct independent background checks. The state will prohibit drivers who have been convicted of driving while intoxicated, sexual assault, and other violent crimes. The bill requires drivers to clearly indicate when their vehicles are in service, and it prohibits “surge pricing” during emergencies. Further, the legislation compels the companies to invest a minimum of $1 million in insurance liability for every vehicle in use, in addition to specific coverage requirements for bodily injury and property damage. With these measures in place, Massachusetts would establish the most stringent background check system for the ride-sharing industry in the country, according to The Boston Herald.

The emergence of transportation network services has considerably shaken the taxi industry, which has demanded legislation that can level the playing field. The taxi industry contends that ride-sharing companies, including Lyft and Uber, operate with unfair competitive advantages. For instance, transportation network service companies can employ an unlimited number of drivers, not require their employees to be fingerprinted, pay less for insurance, and allow their employees to use their own vehicles. In contrast, taxi drivers are fingerprinted, have limited numbers, are required to pay between $6,000 and $7,000 a year for insurance, and must buy expensive medallions.

According to Boston College Law School professor Diane Ring, who has conducted extensive research on the ride-sharing industry, transportation network services raise issues that transcend several legal domains, including tort law. She said that H.4049 addresses the operational legal issues, upholds public safety, and attempts to clarify the legal requirements for the ride-sharing industry by making clear guidelines as to what constitutes a company and the responsibilities it has to uphold.

In the interests of the struggling taxi industry, the bill forbids ride-sharing companies from picking up customers at Logan International Airport, the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, and taxi stops. It would provide the small taxi companies state-assistance funds for new technology, loan guarantees for new equipment, and financial consulting.

The legislation does not limit the number of transportation network services vehicles on the road, however, nor does it subject ride-sharing drivers to the same degree of fingerprinting requirements that is customary for taxicab drivers.

The issue of background checks became especially relevant after Uber driver Jason Brian Dalton’s shooting rampage in February in Kalamazoo, Mich., and after two women were assaulted by their Uber drivers in the Boston area. Although Uber currently has a Social Security number-based background checks in place, all three of the attackers passed the company’s background checks and did not have legal records.

Uber and Lyft dispute that fingerprinting would be discriminatory to applicants who were arrested but not convicted. It would also discourage drivers from working with the company due to the inconvenience and expense associated with fingerprinting. The city has already started the process of collecting an estimated 6,000 licensed taxicab drivers’ fingerprints, and the process is extremely efficient and quick, according to the Boston Police Department. Despite Boston Police Commissioner William Evans’ resilient support of the fingerprinting provision, legislators left out the provision at the last minute.

Uber Boston’s general manager, Chris Taylor, released a statement against the bill, writing, “Ride-sharing companies like Uber have moved millions of people and helped tens of thousands of driver partners earn money on a flexible schedule. As it is currently written, this bill presents…challenges that obstruct innovation and hinder an emerging industry that has had positive economic impacts on communities throughout the Commonwealth.”

According to the ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft, many of the requirements, such as the mandatory certification process and car inspection separate from the standard annual inspection that all car owners must undergo, would deter other car owners from joining the company and cause current employees to leave the company. Uber has in the past ceased operations in communities that have introduced regulations that it deems unfair, particularly fingerprinting requirements. In an interview with The Boston Herald Radio, Chris Taylor did not elaborate on Uber’s future in Boston. Taylor declared, “If you look at a lot of Uber’s history and where we’ve walked through regulatory processes and markets, its typically never a single issue. If you look at this whole bill, it’s touching everything from pricing to how drivers come on to the system to how the state interacts with us. It’s a whole suite of issues, so it’s really not one issue in isolation.”

A spokesperson for Baker told The Boston Globe that the governor thinks the bill will protect public safety while allowing for economic growth. Baker considered this legislation one of his priorities for 2016. The Senate is committed to reserving enough time for the two branches to negotiate a compromise on certain provisions before the legislative session ends on July 31.

Featured Image by Boston Cab Company

Uber Launches New Safety Feature In Boston

Busy Bostonians have a new way to ensure their safety when travelling around the city via the ubiquitous Uber cars. The ride-hailing service’s new feature, dubbed, “SafetyNet,” was released last week and enables riders to share their estimated time of arrival (ETA) with the simple click of a button.

The update comes at a timely manner, as Uber drivers have recently been accused or convicted of sexual assaults in the area, the company has been sued for passenger negligence, and multiple bills in the Massachusetts legislature regarding ride-hailing regulation have been introduced, according to Boston.com.

Boston is one of three cities piloting the new feature in the United States. It will be implemented everywhere by the end of the month, Uber Boston Spokesperson Carlie Waibel said. According to the company, SafetyNet lets riders pre-select up to five contacts to receive information about their trip, including the name and vehicle of the driver and their location on a map that indicates where the driver is bringing the customer. The company explained that SafetyNet is designed to enhance safety, which it considers to be the main priority of the trip for both riders and drivers. “Uber believes that safe and reliable transportation should be reliable to everyone,” its website reads. The company said it is confident that SafetyNet will help Uber reach this goal.

Uber argues that transparency is one important way that the company’s technology improves safety in transportation, and SafetyNet is taking the anonymity out of the trip by keeping driver-partners, riders, and the rider’s loved ones informed about whom the rider is with at all times, according to Uber. Waibel added that the feature makes drivers more accountable, since friends and family outside the car are informed of their loved one’s whereabouts.

Waibel explained how the process of sharing an ETA was previously much more difficult on the Uber app, and that SafetyNet makes the process very easy.

“It’s a neat feature that makes the ‘Share My ETA’ feature a one-step process, so riders can quickly and easily share their ETA with contacts that the choose from their phone,” she said. “You just create the list and then share it with whomever you want.”

Waibel said that Uber is always looking to improve its overall experience and that, as far as she can tell, Uber users have praised SafetyNet so far. Uber is incredibly popular in the Boston area and used by many young people, including Boston College students, very frequently.

RELATED: Uber, Lyft, And Boston Cabbies Face Off Through Legislation

Haydn White, MCAS ’18, first heard about SafetyNet when she received a text message from Uber, indicating her roommate’s ETA, which enabled her to see where she was and when she would arrive back at BC. White agrees that this is a great addition to the app, and although she has always felt safe in an Uber and has never had a problem with the company, she would most likely use the feature.

“I wasn’t very aware about what this was until I got a text from Uber sharing my roommates ETA,” she said. “I think it is a good idea for Uber, and I think it will provide more safety within the company.”

Although White has never felt that her safety has been compromised while travelling with Uber, she always makes sure to double-check with the driver to ensure that she is getting in the right car. Additionally, her parents require that she keep them informed about her driver, and make sure that she notifies them when she arrives at her destination.

“One of the things my parents make me do is have me send them a screenshot of the Uber ETA and Map page so they know who the driver is and what the car looks like,” she said. “Sometimes they make me take a picture of the driver as well.”

White thinks that she will start using the SafetyNet feature, especially because it will help put her parents at ease, and give her friends up-to-date information on when she is going to arrive at her destination.

Featured Image by Eric Risberg / AP Photo 

 

Fasten Challenges Uber, Lyft With New Approach To Ride-Sharing Apps

The reception room favors geometric shapes and bright colors. Dozens of people are scattered around the open space, sitting at laptops on the high-rise tables or working in groups on benches around the coffee bar. The shared office space at 745 Atlantic Ave. must host hundreds of different companies, and everyone in the reception room is just waiting for a meeting to start. Coming from another floor, Roman Levitskiy enters the room and shakes my hand. Before we head up to his office, another waiting patron approaches him. The man is also expecting a meeting with Fasten. Levitskiy directs him to a different floor.


The ride-sharing app Fasten launched four weeks ago, and what developers Kirill Evdakov, Vlad Christoff, and Levitskiy have been most surprised about the enthusiasm with which the startup has been welcomed. “We didn’t know how hungry the market was,” Christoff said after explaining that the company spent next to zero dollars on marketing.

Boston is the first city to host Fasten. The developers attributed the appeal of the city to its cold weather, lack of automobile owners, and large amount of college students on a budget. Evdakov noted that Boston is a great place for Fasten, as opposed to over-priced and overcrowded San Francisco, for example, because now most new tech companies start in Beantown before they expand to the West Coast.

From a practical view, the application of the service is not much different from its competitors, Uber and Lyft. One of the main differences, Levitskiy noted, is the metered fare that can be viewed in real time, similar to a taxi. The founders admitted, however, that the technology is not revolutionary. “We’re not trying to show you a whole new experience,” Evdakov said.

Instead of dramatically changing the software, Fasten seeks to change the way ride-sharing companies are managed—not from a technological standpoint, but on a customer service level. “We don’t look at it as a technology,” Christoff said. “Yes, the technology makes the connection. But here today, it’s a human driver, in their own car, with a human passenger. It doesn’t get any more human than that.”

Fasten’s main goal is to offer the customer cheaper rides, while allowing drivers to earn more money. The Fasten team believes the solution is simple. “We keep less for ourselves,” Evdakov said.

The concept can be viewed as a chain of customers—the riders are the drivers’ customers, and the drivers are the company’s customers. Fasten views the treatment of its drivers equally as important to the success of the business as it does the happiness of the actual riders.

“We make a connection,” Christoff said. “We put the rider in that driver’s seat. But, it’s that driver’s vehicle. They provide the service. They pay all the expenses associated with it … So it’s only fair that the driver makes his or her fair share that is proportional to what they do.”

The company’s ideology is centered around giving users and drivers more control. The app’s metered-fare in real time, as well as one’s accessibility to delete items from his or her ride history, are both testaments to Fasten’s goal.

Fasten also criticized Uber for its use of surge charging. “The company makes more money off of providing a worse service,” Evdakov said.

Instead of automatically increasing prices for customers who are in an area that demands more drivers than the company can supply, Fasten gives riders an option to wait for the supply of drivers to increase, or pay slightly more to broaden the surrounding area from which the request will pull from. “You have all the control,” Levitskiy said.


The man who approached Levitskiy in the reception room was a prospective Fasten driver, eager to sign up. The three developers later tell me about the line of drivers that develops outside the Fasten office on most mornings, and the call Levitskiy received one Friday from a group of six drivers insisting on starting work that Saturday, despite his push to meet them on Monday during business hours. “For four years, nobody knew how unhappy [the drivers] were … now everybody gets a choice,” Christoff said.

Featured Image by Magdalen Sullivan / Heights Editor 

It’s Time For Uber To Improve Driver Background Checks

Anyone who is a regular Uber user knows the drill. Every time you finish a ride, you give your driver a rating from one to five stars. Most likely you don’t put much thought into those ratings—but for Uber, they’re crucial.

These ratings seem to be the only reliable way for the ride-sharing company to currently monitor customer feedback. There isn’t much the company is doing right now—besides controversial background checks—to track which drivers are better than others, and which should stay off of the road.

Having a say in who is behind the wheel of our ride is becoming increasingly important. We want to know that we are going to be safe when we get in an Uber.

Last week, a former Uber driver was found guilty of kidnapping and raping a female passenger in Boston. The driver reportedly lured the woman into his car and later climbed into the backseat, strangled the woman, and sexually assaulted her, according to The Boston Globe. He will spend at least 10 years in prison.

Back in December, I wrote a column about many of the controversies surrounding Uber—ranging from price gouging to Uber’s invasion of user privacy and safety concerns. As an experiment, I decided to delete my Uber app. I lasted about two months before I was standing alone on a street corner in the middle of Winter Storm Juno waiting for an Uber to save me from the latest wave of Snowmageddon 2015 (The T was shut down, of course.)

It’s simply too hard to go without Uber, especially as a college kid living in Boston. I’ve used the app eight times over the past month, and I was recently frightened to hear that my mom (who is technologically challenged, to say the least) occasionally uses the app to get around good ’ol Minnesota. Boston College also includes Uber on its website as an option for parents and students to get around Boston. The app is everywhere—and everyone is using it.

RELATED: As Students Opt For Uber, Taxi Drivers React

It’s clear that Uber isn’t leaving us anytime soon, but if the company wants to remain the main option for college students to get in and out of Boston, it needs a major reality check. The long list of the company’s problems that have been coined “Ubergate” continue to accumulate, and Uber needs to make passenger safety its top priority.

Many states across the country are demanding that ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft institute more thorough background checks. Last year, prosecutors in California argued that Uber has failed to properly inspect its drivers, some of whom were convicted sex offenders, kidnappers, and murderers.

Massachusetts lawmakers are currently making solid progress in reevaluating how Uber runs the road. Several proposals are being reviewed by the State House that would regulate the ride-sharing companies and focus on passenger safety. The bills call for extensive background checks for prospective drivers and require vehicles to display official signs.

One of the bills would require Uber applicants to submit fingerprint samples that would be validated by the State. Uber already has fingerprint policies in two cities: Houston, Texas and Columbus, Ohio. But the company has ferociously fought against fingerprint checks elsewhere, arguing that these scans would cause certain applicants to be flagged unfairly, and slow the process of hiring drivers. On the other hand, Taxi drivers and lobbyists would be eager to see statewide fingerprint policies put in place, including for their own drivers.

State Rep. Michael Moran is a co-sponsor of the bill that would require fingerprinting and explained that Uber is pushing hard to get more drivers on the road to serve high demand

“Anything that slows down their ability to get [an applicant] in a car and driving for Uber, they don’t want,” Moran told Boston.com.

Why wouldn’t Uber want the highest level of background checks on its drivers that represent everything the company stands for?

Sure the fingerprinting process would slow Uber from getting more drivers on the road, but I’m happy to wait longer for a ride as long as I know I can trust my driver. From a consumer’s point of view, safety is the top priority.

If Uber wants to continue to grow on college campuses across Boston, the company absolutely needs increased safety and background checks for its drivers. The nearly 250,000 students living in the city—especially women—will not get into the backseat of an Uber if they do not feel safe.

Now it’s up to Gov. Charlie Baker and the State to take action. We can’t have another instance of an Uber driver taking advantage of a passenger.

Featured Image by Francisco Ruela / Heights Graphic

Uber, Lyft, And Boston Cabbies Face Off Through Legislation

The Gardner Auditorium at the Massachusetts State House was divided two weeks ago: one side of the room clad in yellow, the other dressed in blue and pink.

The color scheme marked a sharp partition in the audience’s approval of two bills that could have a significant impact on how government oversees popular but largely unregulated ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft.

Ride-sharing app users and drivers—those in pink and blue—and representatives of the taxi industry—in yellow—exchanged applause and boos throughout the 10-hour debate. Drivers of ride-sharing companies vocalized their support for a bill proposed by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, while cabbies registered their approval for a bill filed by State Senator Linda Dorcena Forry and State Representative Michael Moran back in July.

Baker’s bill, backed by both Uber and Lyft, would allow the Department of Public Utilities (DOPU) to regulate all ride-sharing companies. The DOPU would search all driving records for any drunk-driving arrests, as well as other violations that could prevent eligibility to drive for any ride-sharing company. Baker’s bill would also put forth a two-tiered criminal background check on all drivers that would reveal any previously committed crimes in any of the 50 states.

Uber argues that it already performs a pre-screening process for its drivers. “All driver-partners wanting to use the Uber platform are required to undergo an extensive background check, which is performed on our behalf by Accurate and/or Checkr,” the company’s blog states.

RELATED: As Students Opt For Uber, Taxi Drivers React

Uber pointed a finger at the loopholes in the Boston cab industry’s background-check procedure at the bill hearing. Representatives from Uber said 7.6 percent of the 1,025 licensed cab drivers who have undergone Uber’s background checks failed, based on comparing driver names and hackney numbers.

Baker’s bill also gives the Massachusetts government permission to require fingerprinting or impose other regulations it finds necessary. Fingerprinting of drivers is critical in solving any crimes associated with ride-sharing companies, the bill says.

Though the proposed bill would change the way ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft manage their drivers, the companies are still on Baker’s side. Carlie Woibel, Uber’s Boston communications representative, told The Heights that her company fully supports Baker’s bill.

Alternatively, Forry and Moran’s bill would require all Uber and Lyft drivers to have their vehicles covered by commercial insurance, have livery license plates, and be fingerprinted with full background checks.

Ride Hailing Regulations

Employees of taxi drivers support Forry and Moran’s bill because they feel that Uber has an unfair advantage over the taxi industry ever since the ride-sharing company launched in 2012.

“Uber cars just send a picture of their car to Uber, and that’s it—that’s their inspection,” said Steve Sullivan, the general manager of Metro Cab, Inc. “We have to have a full inspection by the City of Boston twice per year where they look under and over the car, check for any dents or rust, and even the faintest flaw will prevent its approval for service.”

Meghan Joyce, Uber’s East Coast general manager, said in a prepared testimony that the lawmakers’ bill would discourage people from signing up to drive with the company by imposing rules that included “fingerprint checks not currently required of taxi and limo drivers and economically burdensome and duplicative insurance coverage.”

Forry responded to the sharp criticism from Uber and Lyft supporters.

“In no way are we trying to eliminate Uber or Lyft from the transportation industry in Massachusetts,” she said in an interview with ABC. “To all the drivers out there who have been told we are taking away your livelihood, that we want to destroy you and transportation network companies, it is not true.”

Taxi companies—especially those in the greater Boston area—have recently seen a mass exodus of their drivers flocking to Uber and other ride-sharing companies. Out of Boston’s 6,400 licensed cab drivers, more than one-fifth have signed up to drive with Uber, the company said.

Several medallion owners have also transferred over to ride-sharing companies. Medallion owners would be the ones least likely to leave the taxi industry because a medallion is a transferable permit that confers the right to drive a cab, Sullivan said. The prestige of owning a medallion, however, has faded away since Uber and Lyft were introduced.

“When Uber was first launched, medallion prices were around $750,000—now, they have dropped to below $300,000,” Sullivan said. “The taxi industry isn’t looking for special treatment—we just want Uber to be regulated the same way as us.”

Uber and Lyft have stated in the past that they adhere to a market that taxi companies cannot, because they provide reasonably priced rides to people in outlying areas of Boston. Uber has more than 10,000 drivers in the Boston area, and has said its drivers give more than 1 million rides every month across the state.

State Representative Aaron Michlewitz, the co-chair of the finance committee, said there was no timeline for the legislation. Currently, the committee has not made a decision on any of the bills, but the hearing could ultimately result in legislation governing the popular but controversial ride-hailing apps.

“If such a proposal were to become law, it would effectively ban ridesharing services from Massachusetts,” Joyce said.

Featured Images by Steven Senne / AP Photo

UberPool Launches In Boston Amidst Ride-Sharing Protests

As of early August, there is a new mode of transportation Boston students and residents can take between point A and point B. Uber, the popular ride-sharing app, has brought its newest product to Beantown: UberPool.

The logic is the same as the typical, suburban carpool to soccer practice—cooperating with multiple parties traveling in the same direction while depleting the amount of traffic on the road. Uber clients can opt to share a car with a stranger in close proximity who is traveling to the same area.

Bringing the product to Boston makes perfect sense, Uber spokesperson Carlie Waibel said. “Boston is definitely a city of early adopters who are traditionally known for embracing innovation and technology,” she said. “And because there’s a condensed downtown area, it made it a perfect fit for UberPool.”

Boston’s uniquely saturated population of college students makes the city an ideal target for the new product. An UberPool client pays exactly half of whatever the regular UberX would cost—potentially giving 18-to-22-year-olds on a typical college student’s budget an incentive to share a ride into downtown.

Beantown is not Uber’s guinea pig. Boston is the fifth city to host Uber’s newest service, preceding the campaign’s successes in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Paris, and Austin. This past week marked the one year anniversary of UberPool’s launch in California.

While UberPool has only been available in Boston for a few short weeks, it has shown immense popularity in other parts of the country. After one year of its conception, Waibel noted, 50 percent of UberX rides in San Francisco are sought through UberPool.

“Students will find this option very affordable, very convenient, and a great way to be more green and have less cars on the road,” Waibel said, confident that Boston students and residents are going to embrace the new product.

According to a post on the company’s blog, the service is available in Downtown Boston, South Boston, Dorchester, Somerville, Brighton, Allston, Brookline, Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, and Cambridge.

UberPool’s launch on Aug. 13 came only days after a city-wide taxi driver strike in Cambridge, Mass. and a protest on city hall demanding stricter regulations on ride-sharing apps such as Uber and Lyft.

The Boston Globe reported on City Councilor Nadeen Mazen reasoning with the crowd of angry and frustrated cabbies, “You guys realize the constituency that supports Uber is the majority and you’re the minority, right?”

Earlier in the year, Governor of Massachusetts Charlie Baker proposed legislation that would put heavier regulations on ride-sharing apps, rules that are to be enforced by the state’s Department of Public Utilities.

Baker’s legislation was met favorably by ride-sharing companies and, not surprisingly, received backlash from taxi lobbyists who seek even stricter regulations around Uber and Lyft.

While the proposed rules attempt to ensure the safety of riders through driver background checks, Baker’s statement is clear: if the rules of supply and demand mean that taxis are out and Uber is in, it’s not his or the state’s place to interfere with the industry.

In July, two Boston legislators proposed an alternative solution to the debate. State Senator Linda Dorcena-Forry and Representative Michael J. Moran co-sponsored a bill that would require Uber to submit to regulations of the same intensity as taxi drivers, including commercial insurance and rigorous background checks.

In regards to the protests in Cambridge in early August, Uber’s public stance comes from a place of confidence. “As taxis put their own interests ahead of consumers,” the company said in a statement, “Uber will remain a safe, convenient way to get around, because both riders and drivers have made it clear that more choice and greater opportunity is important to them and their city’s transportation ecosystem.”

As for Baker’s legislation, the debate among city legislators will continue throughout the month of September. In the meantime, Uber argues that it will continue to make strides and gain prominence in a currently contentious and controversial debate.

Featured Image by Jeff Chiu / AP Photo