Lyft, Uber to Face off with Taxis at Beacon Hill Hearing

The long simmering dispute moves to the legislature.

via AP

via AP

The slew of bills aiming to regulate the ride hailing industry are set to go before the Financial Services Committee on Beacon Hill during a Tuesday hearing.

Popular companies like Uber and Lyft have operated in a largely unregulated manner since their arrival in the Boston market. Traditional taxi cartels have cried foul about the so-called “transportation network companies” because they are not subject to the same complex labyrinth of regulations, even though they operate in a similar manner.

Ride hailing companies have shattered the government-sanctioned monopoly that taxi cartels have enjoyed for decades. As the monopoly went unchallenged, a system for cabbies developed where a mere taxi medallion became more expensive than a house and drivers were bound by silly geographic restrictions. Cab drivers have not exactly responded to this challenge in a way that endears them to the public. Of course, Uber is now reporting 21 percent of taxi drivers in the city now use their service. 

With Uber or Lyft, anyone can drive. Anyone can call up a ride with the simple push of a button on a smartphone. The ride hailing companies have come under heavy scrutiny for their policy of raising prices at peak demand times and for their classification of their drivers as independent contractors, a move that exempts the companies from providing drivers with traditional employee benefits.

The two most prominent bills set to go before today’s committee are ones sponsored by Governor Charlie Baker (H3351) and Senator Linda Dorcena Forry (H3702). Baker’s proposals are seen as more friendly to the ride hailing companies while Forry’s bill will benefit the taxi industry. Forry’s bill would subject ride hailing company drivers to background checks and insurance requirements.

Action on the bills in the House and Senate is not expected until later this fall.

Meanwhile, the biggest winners in all of this are, naturally, lobbyists. A State House News Service review of disclosures found over $200,000 has been spent on this battle since January. Uber has spent over $121,000 while Lyft has spent $21,000.

Taxi drivers, organized through the Livery Association, have spent $46,630 on their fight since January.