New rules eyed for Uber, Lyft 

GENE J. PUSKAR/AP file photo/A Lyft logo is installed on a Lyft driver’s car next to an Uber sticker. Lawmakers are proposing enacting a 6.25 percent fee on Uber and Lyft trips, with revenue going to towns and cities, as a way to ease traffic congestion and pay for road maintenance.

BOSTON — App-based companies such as Uber and Lyft have raced into the ride-hailing business in recent years, but the explosive growth of their industry has raised concerns about rider safety and the effects on communities from increased traffic.

The Legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee on Friday weighed a proposal by Gov. Charlie Baker to require ride-hailing companies to provide more data to the state about where and when they pick up and drop off passengers.

Matthew Nelson, chairman of the state’s Department of Public Utilities, told lawmakers the changes would give the state and local governments a clearer picture of where ride-hailing companies are operating and how much they contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

“The immense growth ... in the past three years highlight the critical need to ensure that these services are being provided safely, and to ensure that planning agencies and municipalities have access to information that will allow them to make data driven decisions,” Nelson told the panel.

Eric Bourassa, director of transportation planning for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, pointed to a lack of data on the impact of Uber and Lyft as a “major blind spot.”

“They don’t show up in our statistical modeling because we don’t have the data,” he told lawmakers. “It’s as if they don’t exist.”

Baker’s proposal, filed several months ago, is also aimed at improving riders’ safety, administration officials said. Under the plan, ride-hailing drivers would face fines and the possibility of jail time for the practice of “account renting,” or allowing an individual not approved by the state to use another driver’s account.

Safety measures, fees

The proposal stiffens penalties on drivers who do not keep up on inspections, criminal background checks or decals identifying their vehicles.

Another proposal before the committee would allow cities and towns to charge an additional local transportation fee on top of the state’s 20-cent per ride assessment.

Ride hailing services oppose efforts to impose new fees, while arguing that they’ve implemented myriad policies aimed at protecting the public.

“There’s nothing more important to Uber than the safety of the people we serve, and we are constantly working to strengthen safety on our platform, from new safety features, new policies and technology,” Uber spokesman Harry Hartfield said in a statement.

Hartfield pointed out that a recent congestion report conducted by the Baker administration noted ride-hailing trips accounted for only 4.4% of all trips starting in Boston.

“Any attempt to solve congestion while ignoring 96% of traffic is like painting your house with a toothbrush,” he added.

Ride hailing services use mobile apps, which customers search to find rides. Area drivers are notified of those requests. Riders pay through the app; no money changes hands.

Cutting congestion

Lawmakers also want to get more commuters to share rides and use public transit, while bringing the state’s ride-hailing fees in line with other states.

A proposal filed Sen. Brendan Crighton, D-Lynn, which is also being considered by the Transportation Committee, would allow the state to charge so-called transportation network companies a new fee of 6.25% of each ride fare for single-rider trips, or 4.25% for shared trips.

Cities and towns along the MBTA’s rail and bus system would be allowed to charge an additional $2.25 “congestion assessment” for each ride.

A law signed by Baker in 2016 regulating smartphone-based transportation companies included a 20-cent fee per ride, half of which is distributed to cities and towns annually.

Statewide there were 81.3 million trips in 2018, more than half of which originated in Boston, according to the Department of Public Utilities.

That represents a 25% increase over the prior year and more more than $16 million worth of fees.

Most trips are relatively local, with an average length of about 4.5 miles, according to state data. Of rides starting in Boston, 1.8 million left from Logan Airport.

By statute, money from the fees must be used to address the impact of the transportation services on roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

To date, the state has cleared at least 231,188 drivers to work in the ride-hailing industry, though it’s not clear if all of them are currently working.

Besides alleviating traffic, the state is required to reduce its carbon output to comply with the Global Warming Solutions Act, a federal law the state adopted years ago.

More than 40 percent of the state’s carbon emissions come from trucks and personal vehicles, according to the state Department of Transportation.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites.

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