Uber’s business plan thus far has been to ignore the law—or at least it looked that way to Stephen Regan, the spokesman for the Massachusetts Regional Taxi Advocacy Group, in an interview with The Boston Globe. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, however, has introduced a bill that ride-sharing companies like Uber simply cannot ignore—“An Act Establishing Department of Public Utilities Oversight of Transportation Network Companies.”
Baker’s recently proposed legislation categorizes transportation network companies (TNCs), such as Uber or Lyft, as subject to state regulation under the authority of the Department of Public Utilities (DPU). Taxi lobbyists plan to fight the bill, continuing to claim that TNCs should be subject to the same regulations as taxi companies, which slash the taxi business’ income by requiring expensive tax medallions.
Uber, on the other hand, has publicly welcomed the new regulations.
“We thank Governor Baker and his administration for supporting riders and drivers and for promoting innovation in the Commonwealth,” Uber said in a statement to BostInno.
The bill calls for driver background checks to be done by both the individual TNCs and Massachusetts officials, allowing the state to reject drivers with criminal records. TNCs would be subject to a tax for the cost of oversight by the state. They would also need to preserve their existing insurance deals and expose themselves to annual inspections.
The law does not specify, however, which criminal acts would justify the banning of a driver. Nor does it indicate how the TNC would compute the required tax. If the bill passes in the Legislature, the DPU would spend the following six months addressing these ambiguities—almost guaranteed to be under the intense scrutiny of the lobbyists of taxi companies.
Uber has recently been at the center of numerous lawsuits in Boston. The company had several incidents in the past year with alleged sexual assaults on riders by their drivers. In February, Abderrahim Dakiri, 36, was arrested for sexual assaulting a 30-year-old woman in Boston. Last December, Alejandro Done, 46, was charged with raping and kidnapping a woman. Although it is unclear if he was working for Uber at the time of the assault, he had worked for Uber in the past.
Under the proposed law, TNCs would be required to periodically put forward a list of drivers and their addresses, to the DPU. After it has completed background checks of the drivers, the bill states that the DPU could then “order a transportation network company to revoke the permit of a transportation network driver, and to report to the department immediately upon having done so, upon receipt of information indicating that the driver is not suitable to provide transportation network services.”
The battle between the taxi industry and TNCs has been constant since ride-sharing services’ emergence in the last few years. With this aggressive reform in his first year as governor, Baker is not just joining this fight—he plans on settling it.
Featured Image by Mel Evans / AP Photo