On ride-sharing, Legislature must embrace innovation
Regulation should help foster, not stifle, competition
MASSACHUSETTS HAS BEEN the cradle of innovation since our country’s birth. Big ideas, groundbreaking solutions and global advances in technology, medicine, government and education have been launched in our Commonwealth.
In more recent years, Massachusetts has become recognized as the biggest technology industry competitor to Silicon Valley and our economy has been driven by innovation as other sectors have plateaued. Studies estimate at least 20 percent of our workforce is currently employed in the technology sector – a higher percentage than any other state in the nation. Our tech-driven economy and reputation as a hub of innovation are both critical elements of our continued success in the face of growing competition from other states and cities.
Today, however, Massachusetts is at a crossroads as new innovations collide with proposed government regulations – and the question must be asked: will we continue to embrace innovation, or close the door to new technologies?
On September 15, the Legislature is considering three comprehensive bills on ride-sharing. Gov. Charlie Baker deserves credit for introducing a bill that would level the playing field for shared transportation services like Lyft, Sidecar and Uber and codify regulations for the industry. State Rep. William Pignatelli has also filed a bill that would allow the ride-sharing industry to continue to flourish and innovate for the benefit of consumers. Regretfully, other pending legislation sponsored by the taxi industry would be a major step backward.
The technology community specifically — and the business community as a whole — has other practical reasons to support ride-sharing. Cashless transactions save time and money and the availability of another transportation option ensures that even during bad weather (that Massachusetts residents see more than their fair share of), people can get to work and maintain productivity.
Many of us began using these ride-sharing and ride-hailing services last winter when public transportation was unreliable, and bringing private vehicles into the city was a nightmare. When a cab could not be found, it was good to know that a ride across town was just a few swipes away. The technology sector doesn’t slow down if weather is bad in one small part of the world. Having robust transportation options for businesses, their employees and their customers is a measure of competitiveness at which we cannot afford to fail, especially as our policy makers grapple with how to attract and retain the talented workforce that separates Massachusetts from the rest of the country.
While some will paint this is as a fight between the taxi monopoly and disruptive new economy upstarts, the truth is that there’s a lot more at stake. Boston’s reputation for encouraging entrepreneurship and maintaining an atmosphere where cutting-edge ideas grow is at risk if the legislature moves to stifle the spirit of innovation that this new transportation option represents. By creating a reasonable framework for TNC’s to be regulated, Beacon Hill can send a strong signal that they are a welcome and wanted addition and contributor to our innovation ecosystem.Matt Mincieli is the Northeast region executive director for TechNet, a national advocacy organization for the technology and innovation sector.