Should the state regulate Uber drivers?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Resources:

Thank you!

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.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

214 replies on “Should the state regulate Uber drivers?”

  1. The state should stay out of it completely. We don’t need any more regulation in the Commonwealth.

  2. 1)

    I am 100% happy with ride sharing. I promise that Beacon Hill will not make it better. One of the reasons ride sharing is so popular is that it skirts a lot of outdated and inefficient regulations that restrict taxi business. Removing and not “Fixing” regulations not help.

  3. Option 2, because it seems like the best balance between holding the company accountable but not over-regulating.

  4. Of course they should be regulated. At a minimum drivers should be required to have a special license to drive as an uber driver from rmv with all the appropriate checks and uber should be required to audit driver key metrics and report periodically their findings to the rmv

  5. I agree almost entirely with you. There should be as little regulation as possible. However, I am open to requiring a criminal and driving check. the companies should set the bar but need an incentive to do the check.

  6. I agree with your personal belief, that the security standard provided by the ride-sharing companies themselves is already sufficient. By creating another level of bureaucracy, it could ultimately cost more money to enforce it. I believe that the self-policing nature of ride sharing is, as it currently exists, a high level of security.

    Perhaps instead an education effort can be made to reach out to citizens using any sort of personal car hailing, whether it be app-based ride sharing or just hailing a taxi on the street. Educating riders in what to look for, as far as signs of potential trouble, could help them make the right decision to actually get in the car if they don’t feel safe.

  7. I would prefer the state stay out of it. The free market has created a safer, cheaper, more pleasant experience without state interference.

  8. Hello,
    I am not in your district but I think the system has been working as is. For the state to create more government is not in the best interest of the citizens

  9. No. Let free market rule. Let competition bring prices down. And allow them to service Logan airport.

    1. The consumer, the consumer, the consumer…everyone is focused on the consumer. Well, what about the drivers? I drove a cab in Newton part-time while attending college so I know that, even before Uber and it’s ilk, cab drivers made squat. Many of them work 10, 12 or more hours/day and six (and even seven) days a week and often times don’t break $100 at the end of their shift.

      And as for Uber et al., what many drivers are waking up to is that they are actually subsidizing these companies. Drivers figure this out while doing their taxes, if not before. Putting all of those miles ON YOUR OWN VEHICLE is really expensive and it turns out that the money that is made…after expenses, is incredibly low to non-existent. But the greedy, yes greedy, companies don’t care because in this economy, the labor pool is almost inexhaustible.
      If anything, fares need to be raised, not lowered in the search of the BOTTOM.
      There has been too much bottom-searching in this country for the last 30 years by corporate america with outsourcing any and every job possible while reinvestment in this country has come to a halt.
      So now, more and more of u.s. are scrambling in any way we can to meet everyday expenses, say nothing of a secure retirement. It’s hand-to-mouth – but this sort of concern is never considered by most Uber passengers and others who are in a never ending quest for the absolute cheapest goods and services possible.

  10. I think the State can mandate certain levels of evidence or best practices to improve rider safety. I do like to idea of fingerprinting or some other higher level vetting of the drivers. But I definitely do not support any state regulations and mandates. This is a private venture after all.

  11. I’d say option #1. Option #2 sounds like creating yet another state agency. I do believe the ride-share companies have a vested interest in quality drivers which short-term profits will not override. I’ve spoken with drivers who are well aware how their reviews from riders impacts their ability to work. As a woman living in Boston without a car I use ride-share services all the time and I feel MUCH safer with them vs. a taxi.

  12. We need a level playing field and since Uber is ubiquitous, the company best be regulated at the state level. When enough Uber drivers realize that this enterprise is increasingly unattractive to them, the corner cutting will begin. It simply is inevitable. The issue of taxi medallions needs some kind of fix going forward and should also be dealt with in any legislation.

  13. I haven’t tried an Uber, but it does make me uncomfortable that “… medallion owners are required to drive newer vehicles, have regulated fares, and carry more in insurance, requirements that Uber drivers can ignore.” I would like some regulation.

  14. I am much more concerned that 80 percent of taxis carry the state minimum 20k in liability coverage. The Globe did an article about injured passengers who go through nightmares because of insufficient insurance. The state should take care of this serious problem before going after Uber.

    As for ride shares just have the state run a criminal background check. No need for more goverment and red tape.

  15. The state should stay out of it! Government intervention driving away innovative companies is the last thing we need as a state.

  16. Senator Brownsberger,

    Thank you for posing this question to the group. As a part-time UBER driver and a passenger from time to time, I can say that I favor option 1 when it comes to security. I must admit though that some ride-sharing platforms are superior to others when it comes to background checks and checking vehicles before drivers are fully operational. For example, when I started driving for Lyft a little over a year ago, there was a rigorous screening process where I had to meet a mentor in person, was instructed about the partner app for my phone, and my car was thoroughly inspected. No such process existed when I signed up with UBER – everything was somewhat automated, no person to person contact during the sign up process, and everything was completed via email. Lastly, I can also say that Sidecar, another ridesharing platform that is not very popular at this time seems to have problems as I’ve heard that many drivers that are removed from a company platform often resort to it because its the only other company in town that will sign them up. In fact, I took a Sidecar once and the rear mirror on the passenger side was missing. Therefore, maybe some type of standardization or regulation is required when it comes to the operation of a vehicle for commercial purposes. I would also support permitting ride sharing pickups at the airport without livery plates or permits. Insurance is a tricky subject, especially for part-time drivers, but I have heard that many insurance carriers are coming out with newer options. Thank you for your time and consideration on this important subject. Best, David Kazis

  17. If taxis drivers and their vehicles need to be regulated, Uber drivers and their cars should be regulated in the same ways. But if Uber drivers and their cars are not to be regulated, then taxi drivers and their taxis should not be regulated. I cannot fathom why Uber should be favored. It’s the same as the discussion of fantasy sports betting. If the state wants to allow internet gambling, they should allow it, not give some special deal to fantasy sports.

  18. So far, what you have outlined, appears to be good. My concern is, one who owns their car, has a limited amount of insurance and according to their policy, they’re NOT FOR HIRE. Does this mean the driver must contact the insurance company and change the status of their vehicle? Does the driver have the burden of repairs? If the people can have the GPS letting them know that the Uber driver is getting them to their location, why can’t this also be done via taxis? And what about the Uber driver, who in between taking on passengers, did an act of violence? Just some thoughts.

  19. I concur with: jeffrey pontiff March 25, 2016 at 3:31 pm
    1)

    “I am 100% happy with ride sharing. I promise that Beacon Hill will not make it better. One of the reasons ride sharing is so popular is that it skirts a lot of outdated and inefficient regulations that restrict taxi business. Removing and not “Fixing” regulations not help.”

    It seems like the equal thing to do to regulate them as well but it would add additional costs and red tape. If anything making it more fair would be to start deregulation of the taxis allowing them to compete with uber, lyft and other ride share companies. Unregulated competition to lower prices

  20. I like uber, think its a great idea and the taxi industry is too singular to ban together to have created this new way of seeking transportation.

    however this is the problem I have uber, why can they automatically create surge pricing during what they call peak time??? on New Years eve $25 rides were costing $250??? this is not in line with the ethics and the way of doing business in Massachusetts.

    secondly taxi owners need to buy a medallion, these medallions were costing 750k a few years back and in NYC over a million. the medallions are half the worth they are today. this goes against everything we stand for. you work hard you get rewarded.

    Massachusetts needs to do something to address those concerns.

    Mike DeSantis
    212 Orchard St
    Belmont,MA
    617-435-9588

    1. More than half of these comments come from people who don’t take cabs. Why is it any of your business how I get home?

      Cabs have no surge pricing. As a result, you can’t freaking FIND a cab on New Year’s Eve, or when it’s raining, or when the bars let out. So while you’re safe home in bed satisfied after decreeing how the world should be, other people are out on the street alone, unable to get a ride, while a mugger or rapist is coming up behind them. But sure! Go ahead and dictate what I choose to pay.

  21. How does this GPS tracking work. Does it help someone without a smart phone?

    The state’s purpose is to make sure it’s safe and that everyone plays by the same rules. We shouldn’t be figuring out the rules as we go along.

    Rules on car safety and driving record should be a factor *before* a passenger gets in the car. For a driver to get a bad reputation and fewer customers does nothing for a passenger *before* a problem occurs.

  22. I think Uber and other rideshare companies should be able to operate as is, as long as drivers are insured and known. This restriction at airport and convention center is ridiculous. Why should I have to wait in line at the cabstand to pay more for a taxi? If the cab companies thought of a system like this instead of trying to hoard territories, we’d be there already. Why limit options for citizens?

  23. The standards need to be leveled, however it’s done. We don’t want to be discriminating against immigrant adults trying to make a living often trying to support their families, while making it easier for middle, upper middle and wealthier young adults to provide station to station transportation with incomplete oversight. I know this is a great 2nd job, while in school job, or in between career employment jobs for these young adults but the others need to feed their families. Pete Mittell

  24. I think uber and lyft drivers should have to get a taxi and livery license. I don’t see where that would require creating a new bureaucracy. It would REQUIRE a C. O. R. I., which to me is just common sense. The $25 fee doesn’t seem that burdensome.

    FYI: The survey seemed biased to me, almost Republican in it’s discouragement of government involvement in private enterprise.

  25. I believe Uber, Lyft, are great for the many smart phone users, but yes regulation should exist for these drivers just as they do for Taxi drivers. The CITY or State needs to allow the CITY & Towns to regulate these drivers with proper ID, Background Check, Insurance coverage for accidents & yes FINGERPRINTS particularly since for example the City Of Boston has invested in the newest technology to make this quick & simple & has offered free of charge the use of it to the Companies drivers. Look I do not go with your seemingly lackadaisical attitude to this new technology & your assumption all will be just fine. It hardly ever is. Most are the drivers are men. Many of the customers are young women, alone, at night. They need the same assurances they have if they had instead chosen a taxi driver. And in this age of terrorism we should not be looking at ways to make terror by nuts who look perfectly normal and easy way to cause harm. This not only needs regulation, it begs for it!

  26. yes 100% needs to be regulated for the safety of the public. Drivers should be screened and licensed just as taxi drivers are required to be. It’s very much a public safety issue.

  27. From your options: 1 or maybe 2.

    What did the state or the city of Cambridge or the hackney board do for me when a taxi driver fell asleep going 65 mph on the Pike with me in the back seat? Zero. So add me to the long list of people who are unconvinced that regulation is being driven entirely by safety concerns.

    Taxi industry protectionism is one of those old-school habits that look really, really corrupt to voters. I don’t think a lot of legislators realize how bad it looks. They will. After all, Uber has all of our names and contact information. It’s easy for them to mobilize support.

    Just go back to the foundations of common carrier law. Why do we regulate common carriers at all? Because there is a dramatic imbalance in information–and the ability to act on information–between a railroad or bus or taxi and its passengers. The unknowing passenger should be confident that:

    – The car is fit to drive
    – The driver is fit to drive
    – There is money available in case something happens
    – Billing is kosher

    Look to see whether private information (ratings, etc.) is sufficient. If it is, leave it alone. If it isn’t, regulate. So, to take an obvious example, I don’t trust ratings to tell me if the car is in decent shape. I want an inspection sticker. Same with insurance coverage (just for my ride; I don’t care about anything else). But driver fitness–I say, rely on ratings as much as possible. If you can add something useful, fine. Otherwise, leave it.

    Skip the fingerprinting. It’s just security theater.

  28. I think some regulation to limit surge pricing and to make sure that drivers are safe and qualified and have the right amount of insurance, but I think there is a bigger issue at hand here.

    The reason that ride-sharing services have taken off (despite often being more expensive) is that the current taxi structure is broken. The drivers are reckless, the cabs are filthy and I can say that as a woman who may ride alone, the idea of getting into a cab with a stranger is daunting (with Uber everything is at least tracked).

    I was in a cab accident a few years ago and have been relieved that there is an option. I tend to take black Uber cars despite the price because they are usually livery licensed, have more insurance, cleaner cars and are better drivers. The general UberX and Lyft services make me a bit more nervous because anyone could technically be your driver.

  29. Number 1. Let capitalism do its job – given the value of ride sharing companies I don’t believe their profit visions are short or even medium term. Massachusetts already has so many policies in place that are not business-friendly (taxes, liquor policies, permit requirements, etc.) and its a big reason why college students graduate and choose to leave for New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, etc. Despite the lack of oversight on ridesharing by govt I have not taken a taxi since 2012 because the value Uber/Lyft creates is so much greater.

  30. Perhaps the State should consider the opposite of these questions, namely get the cities and towns out of the medallion business entirely.

  31. I vote for option #2 – The state should define standards as to the vetting that ride-sharing companies should do and inspect their records periodically. Too many moving violations, any sex offense, any drunk driving offense means a bad and potentially dangerous driver. Passengers should be safe. Option #3 is too much regulation.

  32. I know so many people who use Uber and
    love it. I would probably use it instead if a cab if the price is better. However, I do think that Uber drivers should be required to carry enough insurance to provide compensation to passengers in case of injury in an accident. That is also a safety issue. I also think that something should be done for taxi drivers who stand to lose so much invested–investment that became a requirement because of regulation. They need to be able to compete.

    1. There seems to be widespread misunderstanding that individual taxi drivers own the medallions.

      Do people not realize the companies own the medallions?

  33. The only way to treat all customers and all taxi companies fairly is to make all standards (driver qualification criteria, insurance, vehicle features, business rules, etc.) apply uniformly.

    Then free-market competition, consumer advocates, and journalists will prove which drivers and firms are best vs. worst.

  34. Option 2 is a great balance between the other options and I would certainly encourage that approach.

    Thank you
    Jim

  35. I vote for option 2. I definitely would not go with option 3. While you’re at it, you might want to think about reforming the way taxis are regulated and licensed for this new, more flexible world.

  36. I think ride sharing industry should be at the same degree of accountability as the taxi industry. Option 3 is extreme but it is definitely a lot more background and documentation than what is done currently. If safety is the bottom line, we shouldn’t be lazy. Plenty of things happen in taxis even with these regulations in place but it makes it easier to have recourse and accountability. It’s important to evolve our legislation to meet the demands of the present day.

  37. Among the options you mention, I think #1 and #2 are good options. I believe that Option #2, The state could define standards as to the vetting that ride-sharing companies should do and inspect their records periodically is a best of all.

    I am curious of the use of the term “The State” are we not “The Commonwealth of Massachusetts” and not the State of Massachusetts.

    Shouldn’t it read “The commonwealth could define standards as to the vetting that ride-sharing companies should do and inspect their records periodically is a best of all.”

    Thank you for allowing me to participate in the discussion.

  38. Uber drivers should be subject to the same regulations as taxi drivers.
    If we don’t regulate Uber, why are we regulating taxis?
    Why not let anyone drive around and pick up people as in many undeveloped countries?
    I agree with another responder that the survey seems to be biased in the direction of ride-sharing companies. I see no need to give them the benefit of the doubt. For-profit companies are interested in one-thing–profits.
    I am for #3.

  39. If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it should be regulated like a duck. Consequently, I think that ride sharing services should have to adhere to the same standards of labor, accountability, and liability as taxi companies. Their ability to harness the Internet to facilitate mobility is a welcome innovation, but the ultimate service is the same and should be treated as such.

  40. Drivers for ride-hail app services need to have the same background check procedures as taxi drivers, given the experiences of several passengers (women)
    that have been amply reported. There have also been similar problems in other countries that have the same and/or similar app-based services without adequate screening of drivers. As these services increase their percentage of passengers carried, traditional taxi operators will have fewer passengers, so the total number of drivers being screened should be approximately the number as today.

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