The Codcast: Crunch time for ride-hailing bills

The House and Senate have finally named their representatives to the conference committee that will hammer out a compromise on competing bills to regulate ride-hailing companies but whatever the final law looks like, it won’t placate everyone.

Sen. Eric Lesser of Longmeadow, one of the members on the panel that wrote the Senate’s final version, and Christopher English, policy analyst and project manager for the city of Boston who was appointed by Mayor Marty Walsh to chair the Taxi Advisory Commission overseeing changes in regulations, joined The Codcast to discuss the shifting landscape in the ride-for-hire industry.

Lesser, a committed supporter of the emerging ride-hailing technology, says the goal of the Senate was to “learn from our mistakes” in regulating taxis and find regulations that would not get in the way of the industry growth the way the medallion system did for taxis. One of the issues Lesser said received no opposition in the Senate was opening up Logan Airport and the state convention center in South Boston to drivers for Uber, Lyft, Fasten, and other transportation networks that people coming into Boston may expect.

Currently, Massport regulations, which were set up by statute, only allow Boston cab drivers to pick up at curbside at Logan and only limos and those with commercial livery plates can respond to pickup calls at the airport. Uber, for instance, only dispatches UberBlack drivers, those with commercial plates, though a passenger can get them for the cheaper UberX price.

Boston cabs also have exclusive reign at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center in South Boston because of a surcharge on cab rides that helps pay off the bonds for the facility. The House bill leaves the Logan restrictions in place and puts a five-year sun-setting provision on the convention center rule. The Senate’s bill is silent on those restrictions, in effect opening those sites up to transportation network companies.

English says the Walsh administration is not explicitly in favor of opening up the visitor meccas to all drivers but indicated it needs to expand beyond Boston cabbies.

“The number of people coming in and out of Logan isn’t coming down anytime soon, so we want to make sure all the options are open to them,” he said.

English also said Walsh has some problems with the uniform, one-size-fits-all regulations in both bills, taking the power out of Boston’s hands to fashion rules that fit its unique status. One problem, English said, is the 10-cent a ride assessment on companies that goes into a local transportation infrastructure fund that gets handed out based on the origin of the ride. English says the fact it goes through the state general fund first is worrisome.

“Sometimes, the state doesn’t always fulfill their financial obligations,” he said in a bit of understatement. “There’s definitely a concern about that.”

Lesser said there will clearly be tweaks made to the measures, both in the conference committee as well as going forward, because of the fast-paced changes underway.

“This is the equivalent of regulating automobiles before the dawn of the Model T,” said Lesser.




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