Why You Can’t Catch a Taxi in Cambridge Today

The cab cartels are angry about the rise of Lyft and Uber.

Cambridge tax cabs block traffic on the Mass Ave. Bridge. Photo by Lee McGuire

Cambridge tax cabs block traffic on the Mass. Ave. Bridge. / Photo by Lee McGuire

Your business is suffering, but nobody really feels bad for you because your service sucks and you’ve enjoyed a government-sanctioned monopoly for decades, so what do you do? Tie up traffic and inconvenience people by going on strike and hurt your business even more, obviously.

Dozens of Cambridge cab drivers took to the streets outside Cambridge City Hall on Monday to protest the rise of ride hailing services like Uber and Lyft—no love for Sidecar, apparently—in an action that spread all the way to the Mass. Ave. bridge by MIT. Several Cambridge cabs blocked the righthand lane on the bridge near the end of rush hour.

Cambridge-licensed taxis, covered with signs blasting Uber and Lyft, occupied on-street metered parking spaces all over Central Square. None of them appeared to have received parking tickets from the handful of police and hackney officers observing the protest outside City Hall.

The central complaint of the disgruntled cab drivers? The city should repeal hackney regulations and make it easier for them to operateUber and Lyft should have to abide by the same monopolistic rules that they operated under for decades, while offering crummy service that only improved when cabbies were dragged kicking and screaming by regulators.

Their arguments occasionally touched on the issue of passenger safety and background checks, but, for the most part, the Cambridge cab drivers outside City Hall seemed pissed off that the ride-hailing companies were upsetting the apple cart and stealing their government-protected turf. Cambridge has said that the city is not taking any action on ride-hailing regulations until after the state sets its own rules for the new companies. Cambridge, a city caught between preserving its image as a progressive beacon for the entire country and serving as a home to innovative technology companies, has discussed the possibility of regulating ride-hailing services at a handful of public meetings.

While their protest shifted back and forth between something resembling a group of guys chatting on the sidewalk while holding signs, and the occasionally more organized picket line, ride-hailing vehicles with passengers drove by without incident. The protest was similar to one that occurred in 2014 outside Uber’s Boston office and did not devolve into the violence-filled Luddite-like madness that has occurred at other anti-ride-hailing protests around the globe.

The cab drivers were more interested in creating nonviolent headaches by slowing traffic on Mass. Ave. Their parking space-hogging tactic did force MBTA buses to load and unload passengers in the middle of the street, as they parked their taxis in MBTA bus stops around Central Square.

The protest, unsanctioned by the Massachusetts Regional Taxi Advocacy Group, made it nearly impossible to hail a cab off the street or order one for pickup in Cambridge. Meanwhile, Uber and Lyft were implementing “surge pricing” and “prime time” pricing that doubled the cost of a normal ride on all their services.

With the legislature in its mid-summer recess, it’s unlikely there will be any action on ride-hailing regulations until later this year.