Hail, Boston: The Uber vs Taxi Livery War Is Changing the Industry

As Uber digs ever deeper into taxi territory, Boston’s simmering livery war comes to a boil.

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The city’s taxi battle is about to go into overdrive. In May, taxi drivers protested outside Uber Technologies’ headquarters near South Station, claiming that because Uber’s drivers weren’t as heavily regulated, they had distinct economic advantages. A couple of weeks later, the Cambridge License Commission held a hearing to determine whether the city should impose stricter regulations on the Uber-kinds (a decision was delayed pending further review). Then in June, a Boston labor lawyer filed a suit against Uber, claiming that it classifies its drivers as contract workers to avoid offering health benefits, and is illegally withholding a portion of their gratuities.

“You have one industry that is highly regulated that has established rates,” says Boston Taxi Drivers Association spokesperson Donna Blythe-Shaw, “and another industry that has saturated the streets of Boston with unlicensed, unregulated vehicles—illegal vehicles—that determine whatever the rate is based on the day and time or whatever they feel like.”

Whatever the rhetoric, who’s really being affected by the rise of app-based liveries? “At the end of the day, it’s the big taxi industry that’s slinging the mud,” Uber spokesman Taylor Bennett says.

In truth, there’s no such thing as an indie taxi company in Boston. When City Hall limited the number of medallions, it effectively squeezed out the moms and pops. Now a handful of people, like Boston Cab’s Edward Tutunjian, have cornered the medallion market, driving the cost of individual livery licenses up to as much as $700,000. In fact, most of Boston’s taxi drivers have to shell out approximately $110 a day to rent their cars and medallions.

Uber reps maintain they’re simply offering drivers—and consumers—more options. According to Uber, there’s no cost to become a partner driver, aside from maintaining and owning your own vehicle. And they claim that drivers earn up to 80 percent of every ride.

From a consumer standpoint, app-based services are more convenient (sure beats getting soaked trying to hail a cab in a downpour) and generally offer a better customer experience than taxis do (thanks to instant ratings, newer cars, and mercifully fewer olfactory enhancements). “Uber is changing the industry,” Bennett says. “Anytime you go in and disrupt the landscape like that, it ruffles the feathers of the entrenched industry that has been unchanged and uninnovative for the past 30 to 40 years.”

So why doesn’t the taxi industry develop its own universal phone-based app and clean up its act a bit? “All we’re saying is either regulate the whole industry, or have a free-for-all out there and see what happens,” Blythe-Shaw says.

  • Michael Simon

    I’m a taxi medallion owner who has paid top dollar for the rights that Uber wants to have without costs, it’s a scandal for local governments to regulate a taxi service and then let an unregulated service do exacting what the regulated service is doing without costs while the traditional taxis pay for their rights.
    Taxis win in a city that has the old fashion hail, there is nothing like it, Uber technology might be new, but the old technology that signals a cab by the waving of one’s hand is far better and more efficient. I have seen many times on the streets a potential passenger looking at their phone trying to decide which is better ,to ehail or hail a cab the traditional way ,and each time I stood and watched , the potential passenger always ended hailing the traditional way because it was quicker and the price is a constant . Uber will lose, the traditional taxi hail is the winner here, Uber has not played by the rules and eventually the public and governments that don’t recognize an illegal intruder will at some point, and the company will fail

    • cymrojim

      I’m sorry, but this is nonsense. You think standing in the street in the rain/cold waving your hand to try and attract the attention of a taxi driver who can decide they don’t want to take you to your destination is better? Better than an app that tells me when my taxi will arrive so I can wait inside or finish my drink if I’m in a bar? The simple fact is if the traditional taxi industry wants to survive it really needs to clean up its act. Cleaner taxis. Better customer service. Dropping the attitude that the taxi driver is doing you a favor by driving you. Using technology to make it more convenient to arrange a taxi. If Uber is doing so well, it’s because they’re offering something that taxis aren’t.

      • Michael Simon

        I have seen this behavior before entities or people who think that anyone can be a taxi cab driver without a license or a city permit , they were called gypsies in the past I’m telling you uber are gypsy cabs under a tech disguise , they won’t succeed , the yellow cab is Licensed and regulated , has no surge pricing and for all the people with or without credit cards

  • Cabbies Win

    Uber is just horrible. They blame the taxi industry but let me personally tell you that those fancy cars that people are taking have the most rudest and douchebag drivers. The cars are not clean and they basically rip you off by taking you around the city and not take the shortest route. Uber should be shut down.. and FYI, before you slamming the taxi cab industry, maybe you should learn more about the taxi cab culture. I can’t believe that Boston magazine would even publish on behalf of Uber. Uber sucks!!

  • just trying to get home

    Actually, Uber drivers have been far more polite than several of the cab drivers I’ve had recently, and I haven’t gotten in a dirty car yet. Uber occasionally does take you for a ride, but I repeat: so has practically every cab driver I’ve ever had. Not to mention, when an Uber driver started getting creepy on my friend, she reported him–we’ve tried doing the same with cab drivers, and it was made clear that no one on the other end of the phone cared. Uber’s definitely not perfect, but I don’t think cab drivers are exactly paragons of mobile virtue, either.

  • Rob

    And another uber driver stands accussed of sexually assaulting a woman:

    http://valleywag.gawker.com/another-uber-driver-stands-accused-of-sexually-assaulti-1612258968

  • Rob

    Of course, ride-sharing is a fraudulent business model. Not only does it not pay for any municipal business permits while operating their supposedly “business taxi dispatch”, they also cut corners on local taxes, on commercial insurance (and no, that gap policy that they offer doesn’t cover all that needs to be covered), etc. It is a criminal enterprise that creates unfair, unethical and unlawful business environment. If they want to compete – they need to play by the rules and laws, same ones that thousands of small transportation businesses abide by daily.

  • Nichole M. Buck

    As a now regular Uber user it’s important to note that Uber is almost always less expensive then taking a Boston Taxi. Also I have never had an Uber driver tell me no I won’t go there and lock me out of the cab. There as in Brighton. Maybe this will help Boston Taxi drivers understand customer service and how important it is in any industry. #Justsaying

    • Cabbies Win

      Maybe you need to look up all of the uber drivers who have “raped & assaulted women” before you talk about customer service. I think Uber drivers need to have some customer service education where assault is not allowed. Uber does not follow the law and I am honestly surprised that they haven’t been shut down. I have not heard of any cabbies trying to assault their customers. And when a cabbie denies a ride, think about why they are denying the ride, the cabbies have been robbed and shot at, so I highly doubt that an Uber driver hasn’t rejected driving to Dorchester or Mattapan, please. Uber is not good at all. They ripped off so many people that I know. I would never use them and honestly would be happy to see them shut down Uber. Don’t hate the cabbies, at least they don’t need an app to find people.

      • Gordon

        This comment is completely ridiculous. First off, cab customer service is way, way worse than Uber, and guess what? Taxi drivers rape, assault and discriminate against their customers all the time, but you never hear about it because you can’t look past your outdated business model.

        You say you’ve “not heard of any cabbies trying to assault their customers.” Well my friend, here you go: Seattle taxi driver sexually assaulted woman (http://bit.ly/1obXFKz)

        Stop throwing stones at Uber. (http://onforb.es/1k5NoEG)

        It’s not Uber drivers who need a customer service education, because 99% of them are polite, friendly and will take you where you need to go in a car that doesn’t smell like human feces. And, if drivers do happen to break the rules they’ll be cut from the system…unlike taxi drivers.

        Cabbies aren’t punished for bad behavior, so stories like this (http://bit.ly/1u0Q4UG) and this (http://bit.ly/1pqGZ6iend) end up being incredibly common. I dare you to find half as many stories about Uber drivers, chances are, you can’t.

        Stop trying to protect an entrenched, bureaucratic corporation that puts profits before customers. (http://washex.am/1o3x1FI) The taxi system is ready to fall and, whether you like it or not, fall it will.

        Also if you’re going to make claims like Uber has “ripped off so many people,” you may want to find some support to back them up. Uber doesn’t rip people off, their prices may increase during peak hours, but many people would prefer to pay more to get on the road quicker than wait 45 minutes for a taxi that may or may not end up arriving.

        Quite simply, Uber is better. So much better in fact that even taxi drivers are starting to join (http://hrld.us/1yRdLlb).

        It’s time to leave the past behind and allow the inconvenient, wasteful and selfish taxi industry to die. And though Uber drivers may need an app to find their riders…at least they find their riders. (http://bit.ly/1roCLg7)

        • Cabbies Win

          Uber will shut down, it’s only a matter of time.

          • Carlos Saqiid

            Looks like you just got shut down 10 to nothing by Gordon.

  • Christian Campbell

    Sorry Uber is better than regular taxis and cheaper. I have not experienced a bad ride yet. Also I have not had to fear for my life in a Uber ride, while the cab driver is doing 60 down Boylston st. Also at 2am when trying to get a cab I have locked out of the cab and told to get out of the cab for simply trying to go to Allston….Uber has not once complained about my destination. Sorry the Taxi industry needs to get with the times or die a slow death.

    Also in regards to not paying taxes or fees. I hear what you are saying but, we keep putting more money in the cities coffers for what? Public school education is sub par, roads are not being maintained, and so many other services are being under funded. However, politicians and their friends keep getting a slice of the pie. Technology brings change, the city will either have to deal with that or figure a way to tax them equally as well. Sorry to say Boston is behind the times and needs to step into the 21st century.

  • SomeTingWicked

    Rideshare companies help senior citizens get around affordably, poor people get to their jobs when city transportation fails, and help college kids and people in between jobs earn a liveable wage. Why should the city deny them that? Taxi companies are terrible. I saw an excellent article earlier today at http://www.cigarsandsocks.com that highlights the pros and cons of these companies but I pretty much only saw pros.

    People hate people on welfare, hate people who don’t work, hate people who need help. Let people help themselves by utilizing and working for these rideshare companies. Rant done!

  • rufedup2

    EZpass replaced toll collectors. Scanners replaced retail clerks. ATMs eliminated bank tellers. Why was there no whining? Because government didn’t have any skin in the game. Taxis are a government regulated monopoly and a big money maker for local legislators. Now that their golden goose is being threatened, the mud will fly. Give it up Taxis. Progress can’t be stopped.