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


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