Cambridge Goes After Uber…Again

The Licensing Commission is scheduled to talk about the on-demand service's practices during a hearing.

For the second time ­in as many years, officials from Cambridge are taking aim at Uber’s on-demand car services, and proposing the company adhere to all the same rules and regulations as the taxicab industry.

According to a meeting agenda item posted on the city’s website, the Licensing Commission will meet tonight, Tuesday, June 17, to discuss “policy with respect to regulations for smartphone technology for the taxicab and limousine [and] executive sedan industry in Cambridge.”

Uber, which was aware of the meeting in advance, posted a blog on Monday night along with the commission’s series of sweeping regulatory changes, which would specifically hinder their UberX and UberBlack operations, basically shutting them out. Among the proposed changes is a request to bring all car services that use apps to summon vehicles under the guidance and watchful eye of Cambridge’s Hackney Unit. The proposal also states that any livery services like UberX that rely on handheld technology, not registered with the Hackney Unit, could face strict penalties and fines of up to $100 for a first offense. The changes would also bar the use of GPS-based fare calculations.

“This is particularly disturbing given the enormous impact these regulations would have on Cambridge residents, visitors, and businesses,” according to Uber’s blog post. “For a city known for its innovation and progressiveness, it is shocking that Cambridge would cling so blindly to the past and ban an innovation that thousands of its residents and small businesses value and use on a daily basis.”

Uber representatives asked riders who utilize the service to show up at Tuesday’s meeting, or at least reach out to City Manager Richard Rossi to ask them to curb the reforms. They also started a hashtag on Twitter—#CambridgeNeedsUber—to rally supporters.

While Uber claims the regulations were slipped into the meeting agenda under the radar, it seems some elected officials—specifically on the City Council—are aware of the proposed changes. “Looking into this with colleagues,” said Cambridge City Councilor Leland Cheung, when someone on Twitter brought Uber’s blog post to his attention.

Emails sent to members of the Licensing Commission about the policy shifts were not immediately returned late Monday night or Tuesday morning, but officials made a statement via Twitter indicating the proposed guidelines are a preliminary step at this time:

This isn’t the first time Cambridge has gone after the tech-savvy car services. In 2012, Uber was nearly shut down when the city conducted a sting operation and issued citations to drivers that picked them up. The city argued that Uber’s technique stepped the bounds of Cambridge and state laws pertaining to taxi rides. The state later backed Cambridge’s mission to stall the company and issued a cease and desist, claiming “there are no established measurement standards for its current application and use in determining transportation costs similar to that of approved measurement systems for taximeters and odometers.”

After public outcry and a petition signed by users, Governor Deval Patrick stepped in and reversed the state decision. Cambridge kept the fight going, and later sued, but a judge ruled against the city in their court battle with Uber.

Below is an outline of the proposed policy changes, as outlined by the Licensing Commission:

Proposed Cambridge Smartphone Technology Regs