The Senate will soon consider legislation regulating Uber and other ride matching companies.
I have deep admiration for the fundamental genius of the new ride-matching companies. By matching riders to drivers more efficiently, they are making transportation much more affordable for consumers. Although I have real sympathy for individuals who have money tied up in taxi medallions, I will not support legislation that will hamper the transition to the superior new model.
There are a few issues that some feel should be addressed by legislation. The most significant is security — does the state need to get involved in vetting and registering ride-share drivers?
Here are our options:
- The state could stay out of it. Anyone using a ride-sharing application to call a ride is intrinsically safer than anyone just getting into a cab. The ride-matching app creates a complete audit trail of what vehicle you called and where that vehicle went. You can text a message to your destination so that they can actually watch the ride on GPS until you get safely home.The ride-match companies have a commercial incentive to avoid bad drivers — they run the risk of lawsuits and also simply need to preserve a positive image. Speaking for myself and my family, I am content with the security that I believe these companies already afford. The ride-sharing companies do say that they vet drivers through record checks although they do not authenticate the identity of possible drivers through fingerprinting.
- The state could define standards as to the vetting that ride-sharing companies should do and inspect their records periodically. For example, the state could undertake to define the specific defects in a driving or criminal record that would disqualify a person from serving as a driver — too many moving violations, a sex offense within a certain number of years, a drunk driving offense, etc.Certainly, any large ride-sharing business will avoid people whose record suggests they are unfit as a driver. Whether the state should fix the fitness criteria in stone through statute or regulation is a different question. It’s a judgment call — some are inclined to believe that the ride-sharing companies have a short-term profit motivation and will not set a high enough bar. I’m more inclined to credit them with a long term vision and to believe that they will work hard to avoid damage to their reputation.
- The state could actually register and certify ride-share drivers by creating a new bureaucracy for that purpose. In the strongest form of this model, drivers would need to present themselves at a central office or at a police station to be fingerprinted and have their identity confirmed and their background checked.I understand the appeal of this approach in a dangerous world, but I believe it offers a false sense of security. Ultimately, no matter what the rules area, you don’t know for sure who is behind the wheel and the real-time location tracking offered by a ride-sharing app is probably the best protection one can get.
Some of the other issues being discussed include standardizing the insurance carried by ride-sharing companies (probably a good idea), whether to protect particular turfs like the convention center for taxis (probably a bad idea) and regulating details of ride-sharing itself — requiring newer vehicles, requiring conspicuous decals, etc. (some good ideas, some bad). I welcome feedback on every facet of the problem, but I am particularly interested in feedback on the security issue.
- House-passed legislation on ride-sharing
- Globe comment on House legislation.
- Boston Magazine — medallion prices falling.
- Commonwealth Magazine — changing industry
- Overview of ride-sharing bills filed.
I’m grateful to all who have taken the time to comment here. As of today, April 3 at 10:30AM, I have read through all the comments. I will not endeavor to reply to them individually, but the conversation is very informative. This is an issue that affects a lot of people in different ways so hearing from a broad range of people on the issue is very valuable. I will post some additional thoughts after I’ve had the chance to gather more information and deliberate. I do feel that this is one of the most important issues we will address in this session.