Uber cab controversy

The Boston cab industry has never been much of a sympathetic character. So it was no surprise when the state’s August attempt to shut down the cell-phone-based cab service known as Uber was reversed in the face of outright hostility from the startup’s many fans. But in acting so quickly to placate a growing tech company, the state missed an opportunity to both fix its antiquated taxi regulations and prepare for the onslaught of similar apps about to hit the market.

Uber, which bills itself as “everyone’s private driver,” is essentially a cab service run by smartphone. Users download the app and request a ride, and within minutes are greeted by a sleek black car. At the end of the ride, users pay the fare through the app, which includes tip, and are given an itemized receipt. The benefits over traditional cabs are many: No hunting down cabs, no arguing with the driver over whether the credit card machine is really broken, no calculating a tip.

The problem is that the service ignores many of Massachusetts’ taxi regulations, including its requirement that taxis use approved meters for calculating fares. (Uber uses GPS.) Cab operators have also complained that Uber isn’t subject to the same fuel efficiency and safety regulations as traditional cabs. After officials issued a cease and desist order last month, users revolted, creating an online petition and taking to social media to support Uber. The state backed down almost immediately.

Massachusetts is doing its best to become known as an innovative state, so driving away an innovative company isn’t great for that image. But lifting the ban on Uber is by no means the end of the story. According to the Verge, a similar application known as Hailo is set to launch in Boston in the coming weeks, and others are on the horizon. The state, rather than solving the problem, has simply kicked it down the road.

Walter Frick at BostInno argues that regulations for the entire taxi industry could use an update. In doing so, the state can take the opportunity to set up a framework for ensuring fair competition among legacy cabs and whatever startups might come along in the future. It would also prevent a repeat of what wound up being a no-win situation for the state: It damaged its image as a welcoming place for innovative companies and also failed to find a solution to the problem. 

                                                                                                                                                –CHRISTINA PRIGNANO

BEACON HILL

Rep. Denise Andrews of Orange is urged by a primary opponent she defeated to quit the race after making false charges of cocaine possession against her Republican opponent, the Telegram & Gazette reports.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Guatemalan teenagers, with almost no educational skills, are arriving in Lynn as part of a federal refugee resettlement program and being thrust into the schools, the Item reports.

Lawrence Deputy Police Chief Melix Bonilla remains on the city payroll despite a state law saying he should be suspended, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Middleboro selectmen tonight will look to quell a year-long controversy over a veterans’ memorial park that stems from a dispute over whether a tree in the park should be decorated with Christmas lights.

The advent of paid parking in Haverhill results in a 400 percent increase in parking tickets, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

A Wisconsin judge strikes down portions of a law that limits the collective bargaining rights of public employees. A quick appeal is expected, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports.

ELECTION 2012

Paul Levy wonders why, with some good news coming out of health care coverage, such as the increase in the number of young adults with insurance, President Obama doesn’t crow more about the Affordable Care Act.

Pols, voters, and political analysts look at the race between Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren. Meanwhile, a new Western New England University Polling Ground survey finds Warren out in front of Brown by six points. Public Policy Polling has her up by two points, after trailing Brown in its last poll by five. The Herald’s Kimberly Atkins talks up the state GOP’s platform identity crisis.

The Boston Globe reports on Mitt Romney’s refusal to name his donation bundlers.

Politico spotlights Romney campaign guru Stuart Stevens and his role in Republican Convention snafus, among other campaign miscues. Joe Ricketts, a co-owner of the Chicago Cubs, pulls the trigger on a $10 million anti-Obama ad campaign. Ricketts made waves this past spring when a pitch for the ad campaign leaked out, panning Obama as a radical disguised as “a metrosexual black Abe Lincoln.” Slate visits the Values Voter Summit and finds a high level of anxiety about Romney.

The New York Times tags along as conservative groups scour the earth, looking for voter fraud.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The Swansea police chief has proposed changing the town’s bylaws to require hiring police details, among other safety requirements, for retailers who are open from midnight to 4 a.m., specifically targeting those stores who open early for Black Friday.

The Boston Globe argues that the city of Boston should ease up on taxing tourists.

Executives at General Motors want their corporate jets back, so they want the Treasury to take a big loss on its bailout stock.

CHARITY

The South Shore YMCA has disclosed to the IRS and the state the nature of business relationships between the regional Y and some of its board members, though officials deny it is in response to a Patriot Ledger examination of those interrelationships earlier this summer.

EDUCATION

Michigan financially rewards state colleges and universities that keep their tuition increases down, the Detroit Free Press reports.

HEALTH CARE

Steward Health Care lures a top heart surgeon from Massachusetts General Hospital as part of its strategy to convince people to stop seeking routine care from Boston’s teaching hospitals. CommonWealth scrubs the first-year financial statements of Steward.

TRANSPORTATION

The Gloucester Times reviews the two corporate giants vying for the MBTA’s commuter rail contract.

The MBTA approves $25 million in funding for a parking garage near the commuter rail stop in Salem, the Salem News reports.

The Wall Street Journal examines the decline of the gas tax.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

The owner of a Brockton physical therapy business has been indicted by the attorney general’s office for allegedly submitting more than $28,000 in fraudulent insurance payment claims.

The state’s criminal justice system prepares for a potentially far-reaching fallout from a chemist’s improper handling of drug evidence, the Globe reports.

Whitman police have issued a warning for more vigilance after an unknown man allegedly attempted to abduct an 8-year-old girl Saturday evening from in front of her grandparents’ house.

MEDIA

The IRS decision to grant tax-exempt status to the San Francisco Public Press could open up a nonprofit logjam at the agency, where scores of other news organizations are awaiting decisions.

David Carr of the New York Times examines the practice of letting news sources approve their quotations in stories.

A debate rages about whether a Maureen Dowd column attacking Bush-era neocons trafficks in anti-Semitic stereotypes.