Cab drivers from Somerville, Cambridge, and Boston are expected to circle the block around Uber’s headquarters Thursday, protesting the company’s practices as an on-demand ride service and calling on Mayor Marty Walsh to perform a complete overhaul of the city’s taxi industry.
“We’re doing a demonstration outside of Uber headquarters, protesting the lack of regulation of Uber cars for hire,” said Donna Blythe-Shaw, a spokesperson for the Boston Taxi Drivers Association. “We’ve got cabs coming up. We are going to do a rolling rally, circling around the block. We will have people outside on the sidewalk and we have some signs expressing our position.”
Members of the BTDA, an affiliate of the United Steelworkers union that represents more than 1,400 cab drivers, claim “Uber is a problem” because it takes business from legitimate taxi services that are forced to adhere to stringent and heavily regulated rules set by the Boston Police Department’s Hackney Unit. While licensed drivers have to follow specific guidelines in order to operate on the city’s streets, Uber and its services like UberX and UberXL use “unregulated” and “unlicensed” black car services that are not forced to abide by the same requirements.
“There’s not a level playing field. People will ask, ‘what’s wrong with competition?’ And I will say nothing, as long as it’s fair and equal,” said Blythe-Shaw, adding that taxi operators want Uber off of the streets until they either have to follow the same guidelines set by the Hackney Unit, or the city’s rules for taxis are revamped.
Uber representatives responded to the planned protest and said cab drivers should concentrate on fixing their service flaws instead of circling their headquarters in opposition. “Rich taxi medallion owners should spend their time improving customer service, serving underserved communities, and investing in new, safe and reliable vehicles, rather than complaining about what Bostonians already know —Uber is the safest, most affordable, and reliable ride in Boston and Bostonians rely on Uber to get around the city,” a spokesperson said.
If the taxi drivers’ union wants a complete overhaul of the on-demand transportation industry, companies like Lyft would also be impacted. “The City of Boston’s regulatory taxi rules clearly state that the police commissioner has the authority to regulate all for-hire transportation. So what we are saying to them is, enforce your rules and shut down Uber until such a time that it’s regulated,” said Blythe-Shaw.
In a statement, Walsh said Boston has a number of effective methods of transportation that different populations like and use for different reasons, and he has been working with Police Commissioner William Evans and other city agencies to take a comprehensive look at all of them and how they work. “We cannot turn a blind eye to public safety concerns around unregulated modes of transportation, but we also cannot condemn a popular, effective service that takes responsible steps to ensure the safety of their users. There is a balance,” he said.
In a follow-up, Kate Norton, a spokesperson from Walsh’s office, said the mayor recognizes Uber is a popular mode of transportation, but that “there are serious issues around regulation and questions around public safety.”
“The City of Boston is committed to hearing all sides of the issue, and will work to find a solution that balances the needs of all those involved,” Norton said.
When asked if she thinks the mayor will step up, Blythe-Shaw said she’s pleased to report the mayor’s office called her offices, and they arranged a meeting on June 3 to discuss regulatory reform of the Hackney Unit. “[At] that meeting, I’m sure we will be starting on the journey to change the taxi industry here in Boston. We did get an immediate response from the mayor. He didn’t cause the problems, but he’s in a position now where he can fix the problems,” she said. “We are confident that he will.”
In the meantime, the cab drivers will circle the block in protest. “The event has kind of snowballed,” she said.
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