NYC, Boston view ride-hailing apps differently

New York City and Boston are night and day when it comes to ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Lyft.

New York is engaged in a fierce policy debate about the apps, amid fears they are contributing to crippling congestion and exploiting drivers. In Boston and at the MBTA, meanwhile, the issue is largely on mute, with public officials wary of tinkering with a service that took city residents on nearly 35 million trips last year.

The New York City Council is expected to take up a series of measures today that would halt the issuance of new Uber and Lyft vehicle licenses for a year and also allow the city to set a minimum pay rate for drivers. Corey Johnson, the speaker of the council, and Mayor Bill de Blasio both support the measures, saying the city needs time to figure out what to do.

“The Uber business model is: Flood the market with as many cars and drivers as possible, gain more market share, and to hell with what happens to drivers or anybody else involved,” said de Blasio, who tried and failed to cap the number of ride-hailing vehicles in 2015. Since then, the number of “for-hire” vehicles has grown from 63,000 to more than 100,000.

Uber and Lyft have fought back, arguing the measures would raise prices and lengthen wait times for rides. Their #DontStrandNYC campaign has also suggested minorities would suffer most and even argued that New Yorkers need the app more than ever because the subway and bus systems are not reliable.

“A 12-month pause on new for-hire vehicle licenses will leave New Yorkers stranded while doing nothing to prevent congestion, fix the subways, and help struggling taxi medallion owners,” Josh Gold, a spokesman for Uber, said in a statement.

New York is far and away the largest market for ride-hailing apps in the United States, but most evidence would suggest the apps are having a similar type of impact in Boston. A report produced by Bruce Schaller of Schaller Consulting said 70 percent of all Uber and Lyft trips in the United States take place in just nine metro areas – Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, DC.  His report also said the apps were major contributors to congestion in the nine metro areas, added to traffic even when passengers shared rides, and attracted a large percentage of passengers who would otherwise be taking public transit, walking, or biking.

But the response of public officials in Boston has been far different than in New York City. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has suggested fees on the apps could be raised to help support public transit, but his administration appears more concerned about making the apps navigate city streets smoothly than restricting their operations.

The Baker administration went along with a 20-cent fee on each Uber and Lyft ride, but beyond that officials don’t seem in any hurry to impose higher fees or new restrictions on the apps. And the Fiscal and Management Control Board, which oversees the T, can’t seem to decide whether the ride-hailing apps are friends or enemies.



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