Uber, Lyft too big to ignore

In Massachusetts transportation circles, Uber and Lyft are becoming simply too big to ignore.

According to documents Lyft filed in preparation for its initial public stock offering, the company is growing at an astounding rate. In just the last two years, revenue jumped from $1.1 billion in 2017 to $2.2 billion in 2018. The number of trips provided by the company soared from 376 million to 619 million. Uber is experiencing similar growth on an even larger scale. (Both companies also continue to lose large amounts of money – Lyft lost $911 million in 2018.)

There’s no breakdown for what’s happening in Massachusetts, but it’s a good bet the ride-hailing apps are experiencing similar growth here. In 2017, the apps provided a total of 65 million trips in Massachusetts. The number of trips probably topped 100 million in 2018, assuming the pace of growth in Massachusetts tracks what’s happening nationally.

The Baker administration has taken the view that the rapid growth of the ride-hailing apps is nothing to worry about. Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack has said Uber and Lyft are giving people transportation choices. Instead of taking the Red Line to work every day, she says, many riders are taking an Uber when it rains, riding their bike when it’s sunny, and working from home occasionally. Ridership on the T is down, but she says that’s less concerning because customers are benefiting from having more choices.

“I would be worried if we were losing riders,” she said.

Until recently, the city of Boston held the same view. But Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s administration is now in favor of assessing higher fees on the ride-hailing apps. “While certainly [ride-hail companies] are creating value for our constituents, and people are using them significantly, they are also putting more cars on the street during rush hour, they are taking revenue away from the MBTA, and they’re resulting in greater emissions in the Commonwealth,” Chris Osgood, Boston’s chief of streets, told the Boston Globe in January.

Lawmakers are also jumping on the bandwagon. Rep. Adrian Madaro of East Boston and Sen. Joseph Boncore of Winthrop, the Senate chair of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, have filed legislation to boost fees on ridesharing trips (currently 20 cents a ride) and specifically on vehicle trips to and from the airport without passengers. Madaro said he wants to “level the playing field” for all transportation options, but Uber has complained the proposal would give Massachusetts the highest “tax” on ride-sharing in the nation at an average of $3 per ride.

At Monday’s meeting of the T’s Fiscal and Management Control Board, director Brian Lang argued forcefully for higher fees on ride-hailing apps. During a discussion about a proposed fare increase at the T, Lang said the transit agency shouldn’t be raising rates in isolation. He called on political leaders to consider higher fees on ride-hailing apps as well as a hike in the gas tax and congestion tolling. He said his approach would provide financial support for the MBTA while discouraging riders from getting into cars.

In a discussion about the T’s efforts to attract more college students as riders, Lang made clear the playing field between the transit agency and ride-hailing apps (which he called TNCs, or transportation network companies) needs to be leveled. “As long as Uber and Lyft are allowed to go unfettered, particularly in our city, we’re never going to be able to compete with them,” he said. “To me, it’s a travesty that the TNCs operate unfettered and that there’s no public reward for the way they’re operating.”

While the calls for increasing assessments on Uber and Lyft are increasing, it’s still a delicate dance for politicians who want to rein in the rapid growth of ride-hailing apps while not offending the legions of customers who have come to rely on them. In the public filing for its initial stock offering, Lyft acknowledged the stakes are high as airports, municipalities, and states are placing more and more restrictions and fees on the company’s operations.

“These jurisdictions and governmental entities may reject our applications for permits or deny renewals, delay our ability to operate, increase their fees or charge new types of fees, any of which could adversely affect our business, financial condition, and results of operations,” Lyft said.

–BRUCE MOHL


MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Nantucket District Court judge Thomas Barrett has granted a motion from Kevin Spacey’s defense attorney that all cell phone records between the actor and the teen he is accused of sexually assaulting be preserved. (Cape Cod Times)

A housing crisis leaves seniors feeling stuck about the future, and whether they can afford to sell their homes to pay for long term care. (Wicked Local)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Governing examines Oregon’s statewide rent control law.

A Herald editorial slams Democratic congressional leaders for launching investigations of President Trump, including efforts to force him to hand over his tax returns.

ELECTIONS

Lay off Uncle Joe: Joan Vennochi says lefty critics are going way overboard in slamming Joe Biden for his comment that Vice President Mike Pence is “a decent guy,” calling it just the sort of pointless purity policing that will help ensure Donald Trump’s reelection. (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Former Boston city councilor Tito Jackson wants to open up one of Verdant Medical’s marijuana dispensaries in Mattapan Square, and he wants 20 percent of his staff to have past convictions for non-violent marijuana-related offenses. (WBUR)

Three marijuana companies in Fall River must amend their host community agreements with the city after having initially agreed to pay the city fees that are above what state law allows. (Herald News)

Just 11 percent of the 443 school and city employees paid more than $100,000 a year in Quincy are women. (Patriot Ledger)

EDUCATION

The University of Massachusetts is developing an online curriculum for adult learners and preparing for a drop-off in the number of college students in New England seven years from now, President Marty Meehan said in his state of the university address. (State House News)

The search for new Boston Public Schools superintendent is going slowly, and there is concern that the district may not attract a pool of top-level applicants. (Boston Globe)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

A second patient with HIV is cured. (New York Times)

The Sweet Brook Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Williamstown is identified as one of the poorest-performing in the nation by the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services. (Berkshire Eagle)

ARTS/CULTURE

Peabody resident Diane Hurley started “Black Balloon Day” on March 6 three years ago, hanging a black balloon outside her home to remember the overdose death of her son-in-law a year prior. The gesture has caught on, and Hurley invites those who have experienced loss from the drug addiction epidemic to participate on Wednesday. (Salem News)

TRANSPORTATION

The MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board seems wary of a go-it-alone approach on raising revenue with its fare proposal. Director Brian Lang calls for political leaders to show some courage and consider hiking fees on ride-hailing apps, raising the gas tax, or implementing congestion tolling. (CommonWealth)

T notes: The transit agency is failing to meet its targets on revenue from advertising, parking, an real estate. (CommonWealth)

Senate President Karen Spilka plans to put together a working group of senators to focus on transportation issues (State House News)

Mayors from along the Route 2 corridor are coming together to look at how to increase speed and safety on the highway and they will be looking to the state for funding. “If [the state] can afford to put money into Assembly Square and Beantown, let’s do it here,” Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke said. (Lowell Sun)

MBTA stations have become a refuge from the cold for some homeless people, prompting complaints from some riders. (Boston Herald)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Purdue Pharma asked a court to toss out Attorney General Maura Healey’s suit that claims the company deceived people about the risk of its product, OxyContin. Purdue argues it has been scapegoated for the opioid addiction crisis while OxyContin only makes up less than 2 percent of the opioid market. (WBUR)

A 48-year-old inmate in prison for killing a Townsend woman and her two young children when he was 17 is asking the Supreme Judicial Court to move up his eligibility for a parole hearing, part of the wave of cases seeking to make juvenile offenders eligible for release sooner than adult offenders convicted of the same crimes. (Boston Globe)

Jassy Correia, who was allegedly kidnapped and murdered after attending the Boston nightclub Venu, had earlier survived a kidnapping and brutal beating by someone else – the father of her child, Miguel Castro, who is now serving a state prison sentence. (Eagle Tribune)

Bail has been set at a combined $35,000 for a married couple charged with operating a Norwell massage parlor called Platinum Body Works and Spa, where police say sex acts were sold before it was shut down following a raid two weeks ago. (Patriot Ledger)

A judge agreed to drop one of two charges against Bryon Hefner, husband of former Senate president Stan Rosenberg. (Boston Globe)

PASSINGS

Rob Restuccia, a pivotal figure in pushing to expand health care coverage in Massachusetts as well as nationally, died Sunday at age 69. (Boston Globe) One of the many initiatives he was involved in starting, the Commonwealth Care Alliance, was spotlighted in this 2004 CommonWealth article on remaking health care.