Cab Drivers, Uber Supporters Plan Rally at City Hall

The meet-ups and protests are in response to a hearing about transportation regulations.

Boston cab drivers are holding a rally on City Hall plaza Monday afternoon to call for stricter regulations for on-demand livery services like Uber and Lyft. The protest will happen just an hour-and-a-half before members of the City Council’s Committee on City, Neighborhood Services, and Veteran Affairs host a public hearing about the subject.

“Creating a ‘limousine service for the masses’ might be popular, but in the city of Boston, it is illegal and needs to be stopped,” said Donna Blythe-Shaw, a staff representative for the Boston Taxi Drivers Association, the union that opposes the lax rules for services like Uber. “It’s time to take action against illegal vehicles-for-hire on the streets of Boston.”

Blythe-Shaw said Uber’s “defiance of current laws and regulations” is sabotaging the taxi drivers’ ability to “get fares and make a living.”

“And that’s where the city of Boston has failed its cab drivers,” she said in a statement, calling for drivers to step out of their vehicles and join others on the steps of City Hall.

Other union members and organizations from New York City and Philadelphia will join the protesting taxi operators on Monday afternoon. Collectively, they will call for the city to take “illegal vehicles…off the streets.”

First filed by City Council President Bill Linehan back in July, the public meeting, which representatives from the taxi industry and Uber are encouraged to attend, will begin at 1:30 p.m. in the Iannella Chamber at City Hall. The public hearing was originally scheduled for November 24, but was later moved.

There’s not much in terms of topic discussion outlined in the request for the hearing, but Linehan alludes to the fact that taxis and pedi-cabs are both heavily regulated by the city’s Hackney Carriage Unit, headed by the Boston Police Department, while the newcomers that rely on smartphone technology to allow people to hail a ride to their next destination have no such restrictions in place.

“[They] have been operating within the city of Boston for several years, competing for a substantial share of the city’s transportation services,” Linehan said in his call for the meeting. “Uber and Lyft are performing the same service as taxis and pedi-cabs.”

As taxi drivers prepare to defend their business by asking that Uber either be removed from service, or heavily regulated in the same way as cabs, representatives from Uber also plan on meeting at City Hall at noon with their own supporters.

In an email that went out during the holiday weekend, Uber representatives asked people to show up at the meeting to tell city officials that the ride-sharing app is important to their daily commutes.

“To ensure your continued access to the Uber you know and love, make sure your voice is heard,” the company said. “That’s why we’re asking you to come out and show your support in person! Our elected officials need to see first hand what Uber means to Boston.”

Uber is worried that the City Council “could explore steps to make it difficult” to use their services, they also said in the email.

As the City Council gears up to take on the topic on their own terms, Mayor Marty Walsh has been quietly keeping his eye on the matter as well.

Back in October, Walsh announced the formation of a 24-member “Taxi Advisory Committee,” tasked with sitting down to iron out policy and regulatory recommendations that could help support the city’s taxi industry in a time when rapidly changing technology is skirting the rules by offering innovative alternatives.

“Boston’s industry is unique in many aspects, but common themes can be seen throughout, as cities and states work to get a grasp on the changing face of transportation,” Walsh said when he launched the task force. “We look forward to engaging the public in several ways to gather valuable input and feedback from the people.”