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. I mostly comfortable with leaving it alone. However, I do understand the desire for more complete background checks. It may not stop someone from being assaulted but may be a deterrent for someone looking for a cover.

  2. I would say even as a state worker, and working in a world of beaurocracy, that it would be nice to have one system exist that isn’t regulated. I don’t ride Uber but I know many people that do…it actually sounds safer than riding a taxi as far as overall driving skills and friendliness is concerned, and is much more affordable. So my vote is a “no” on this question…..

  3. The state should define strict standards and fingerprint every driver in addition to background checks

    1. I believe that the State should take a free market approach and stay out of regulating this. Perhaps a public awareness campaign in the way of having Drivers post visible stickers/signs that remind and encourage Riders/Passengers to use the GPS “text destination” feature within the app. I told me wife that every time she user Uber, to say out loud (informing the driver) that she is texting her ride information with her husband and father-in-law. By informing the driver of this it only heightens the awareness of ride safety, and deters incidents.

      However, if passengers do not feel safe using ride share programs for this reason, they do not have to use them! No one is forcing people to use these services. If someone feels uncomfortable they they should use a taxi or public transportation, etc.

      Imposing regulations in not a valuable use of the States money, and will only hinder the service providers from operating. We ever happened to capitalism? Can we not allow the market to determine what a Service Provider needs to have in order to provide a viable business. To one of the points above, the Providers are incentivized not to allow “bad drivers” from operating. Should (god forbid) there be a spike in incidents, the market will stay away from such services, and the Service Provider will be forced to change.

      Imposing regulation due to the perception of a public safety concern only impairs the Service for those who rely on it already. If I have the means, and I feel comfortable using a Service, then please don’t impose regulations restricting its use. If the taxi operators want a “level playing field” tell them to improve the quality of THEIR service!! Have you been in a Boston cab recently? The driver is often scary to ride with, the cab is filthy and uncomfortable… their service is terrible. Rather than trying to waste legislator’s time debating this stuff, if I was a Medallion owner, I would better train my drivers, overhaul my fleet, develop an app to help people more easily book taxis. etc… become more competitive to provide a better service. By regulating ride-sharing programs we are succumbing to a monopoly who provides a mediocre service and is too lazy to try an improve.

      PLEASE do not impose regulations on ride sharing services that would limit the people’s ability to use such services.
      Thank you.

  4. For the most part the state needs to stay out of. The market has spoken and riders by the thousands find Uber to be safer, more reliable and overall a better service than taxi cabs. Forcing unnecessary regulation is wasteful, and only benefits the crony cab companies who will not update the quality of their service and instead wish to legislate their competition away.

    The state could define standards as to the vetting that ride-sharing companies should do and inspect their records periodically, but there’s a better plan. Obviously, we have seen a few isolated incidents of drivers who acted maliciously especially towards young women. Instead of making companies meet a certain state specified criteria, which many already do, the state should publish a ranking of how extensive the background check for each service is and let consumers make their choice that way if it is a concern. If a company sees that their sales fall because of this then they will expand their background check.

    The biggest issue is riders getting into cars that they think are their Ubers. My university and Uber already send out reminders that you should always confirm the drivers name and license plate before entering. If the state wants to eliminate crime around ride sharing then they should issue a similar PSA that helps to educate passengers.

    Legislation is not the answer this time, common sense and the free market is.

  5. One other thing.

    I was at the airport this weekend. I pulled up my Uber app and checked out the pricing Sunday night. They said $68-$85. I went out to the Taxi stand and took a cab. In this case more convenient. I say, leave Uber alone. Let the market decide and public decide what they want. If anything, loosen regulations on cabs and let the cab companies opt in on Uber.

  6. No bureaucracy or regulations should be imposed by the state on companies like Uber. We operate in a free market. If Uber becomes unsafe (by their own carelessness/lack of checks in choosing drivers) then consumers will choose not to use Uber.

    I feel no less safe in an Uber than in a taxi or on a bus and no state imposed regulations will change that.

  7. Dear Senator Brownsberger,

    Thank you for making us aware of this new proposed legislation and for your perspective on Uber.

    In terms of the proposed legislation for the state to certify Uber drivers for safety purposes, I see no purpose. The violence in cases of Uber drivers attacking their customer/passengers appear to be random and infrequent occurrences, just as taxi drivers can be the victims of their passengers (as happened this week).

    What I feel is most important is that while Uber may be more cost effective than some taxis, the business model is not a superior one at all. I heard a Silicon Valley internet entrepreneur with this perspective: The Uber business owners reap the profits while the drivers are paid per hour, so a few people at the top are making a good income. Taxi drivers own their own business and can make a living. Now they are being put out of business. It actually creates MORE economic disparity! Fewer people actually make a living wage.

    My friend has her own transport business and makes a living – that is a model I can support.

    Thank you for all you do.
    Maria

    What I feel is most important is Uber

  8. I feel that the state should not impose new regulations. The ride-sharing market is developing well on its own and I do not think the State will have a beneficial effect.

  9. I believe it’s safer than cabs. My wife and I have discussed and have agreed that she shouldn’t use uber alone, which is an individual’s choice. Hailing someone unknown has inherent risk and agree that the tracking that is currently in place is sufficient. No model is perfect, and can and should be adjusted as the environment changes.

  10. If the ride share industry is behind this, who are you arguing against ? See quotes:

    Meghan Joyce, Uber East Coast general manager, said Uber supports the bill. “This bill would set into law for the entire industry many of the safety standards that have attracted riders and drivers to ride-sharing, including $1 million of insurance on every ride and rigorous, mandatory background checks for all drivers,” Joyce said in a statement.

    Uber spokesman Matthew Wing said Uber already conducts mandatory background checks of its drivers and provides $1 million in insurance. He said the company supports the bill because it would extend those standards across the industry. It would also create a regulatory framework that would allow Uber to expand statewide as part of the state’s transportation industry.

    Lyft spokeswoman Chelsea Wilson said Lyft also supports the efforts. “Governor Baker has created an inclusive process that we hope will lead to the continued success of Lyft in Massachusetts,” Wilson said in an email. “The people of the Commonwealth have demonstrated their support for ridesharing and we look forward to working with legislators to finalize a bill that maintains this consumer option.”

  11. Please – we require to many bits of info already. We cannot keep them safe. We should requie registration.

  12. yes, the state and a city like Boston that has Cabs should regulate ride shares. Mayor Walsh wants that requirement. I want to get into a car knowing that the driver is known and vetted. Licenses, safe driving records, addresses, real names. I think fingerprints are a good thing, since we get in cabs to leave home and to return there when others might not be there. I want whatever assurances there can be. Most of us don’t have people who can follow our GPS on every cab ride. What has been fair for our cabbies, should work for the ride-share drivers.

  13. I am a woman who frequently takes Uber all over the city and have found it to be a safe and reasonable alternative to taxis. I don’t believe that State regulation would significantly enhance the safety or effectiveness of these services and therefore I recommend going with Option 1.

  14. As someone who’s been sexually harassed by uber drivers many times and believe it’s 100% necessary to do background checks for this reason.

    Model #2 looks like it makes the most sense to me.

  15. Senator Brownsberger – I believe the state should stay out of ride sharing program’s business. The whole model of ride sharing allows it to remain competitive. There will always be bad apples in any business, regardless of service and any reputable business or company will address it swiftly and appropriately. Uber and other ride sharing programs have too much on the line to make bad business decisions.

    It works, it isn’t broken. Don’t touch it (please).

  16. Ride-share drivers should have the same requirements as taxi drivers – why not? There have already been enough reports of problems with Uber drivers. The burden of responsibility should not rest on the passenger or on someone “tracking” the ride. Insurance should be standardized and be the same as for taxis. And HP/wheelchair accessible vehicles must be included in any fleet.

  17. Why are we not playing with the same rules?, as an owner of single TAXI Medallion, I believe in a system, that built on Rules and Regulations. Overnight you have chosen to change the rules of the game. There are 100’s of cabbie family and small business owners, stuck with mortgages and cannot afford to pay Insurance and mortgages. We are paying from our life savings and from our education funds for our kids. I do not want people to feel bad for cabbies and small business owners, but rather I want the system to be fair, and we all have to play with the same rules. You cannot possibly work your way and bribe corrupted politicians, and destroy the livelihood of many families, simple because Uber and other companies, are so powerful, and they know how to manipulate the political system. You have created a segment of our population, that no longer trust the system, and you have done it in a very vicious way. We all embrace new technology, but it does not have to build on the suffering and affliction of other people and families that have no loud voice. Uber should be regulated, hence if the Cabbies pays for Commercial insurance, then the Uber drivers should do the same.

  18. Option #1 or Option #2 – don’t create a heavy bureaucracy, and create light-touch regulation that balances the public need for a minimum standard while allowing for innovation. The cab industry got itself into this spot by creating a false monopoly through over-burdening regulation without quality. Let the public vote with their business while setting a minimum

  19. Uber should be regulated similar to other transport providers, including the same requirements for its employees (they ARE NOT independent contractors, but unfortunately the courts have not caught up on this yet). Uber should be required to provide and pay for all credentialing requirements for its drivers, which should be similar to those required of other pertinent transportation sector employees.

    I suppose this is option #3, but even stronger. I am tired of Uber and other ride sharing services exploiting labor and undercutting worker solidarity.

  20. A few observations.
    1. The taxi trips I’ve taken with local companies in Belmont and Watertown have been OK but the vehicles haven’t been particularly nice or clean. The drivers have been OK but nothing more.
    2. If the local companies are regulated, I’m not sure that regulation has made the taxis cleaner, safer, or given me more confidence in the drivers.
    3. The local regulation, if any, has not made the taxis competitive fare wise. A local taxi company trip to the airport recently cost twice as much as a similar Uber ride.
    4. My limited experience with Uber is that the vehicles are newer, cleaner and I know the identity of the driver.
    5. I am not a small government person but I question the effectiveness of certain regulation. It is not apparent to me that either in Boston or the Belmont/Watertown area that regulation has significantly improved taxi service.

  21. Short answer: 1 is fine, a couple components of 2 might be fine 2.

    Long answer: As a selectman, I’ve rewritten our taxi regulations once already, and I feel hidebound by state regulations. I think this is a classic case of regulatory capture. It’s an industry that has, intentionally or not, turned the regulating agencies into a defensive moat that protects them from most challengers.

    Then comes along Uber and Lyft and others – a classic disruption example. The disruption is particularly dramatic because the status quo was so static. It’s like the earthquake analogy – lots of little earthquakes, or one big one? The regulatory structure has locked everything in so long, there has been no release of pressure.

    The mistake we must not make is to put these disruptors in the same straitjacket as the incumbents. This disruption is good for the customer. “I wish I had a regular taxi” is not something that Uber users say.

    The disruption is not good for the traditional taxi industry, but they shouldn’t be driving the debate. They should be participants, like everyone else. They need to meet the need (credit cards without complaint, ease of calling, transparency on arrival, customer feedback loop on driver, etc.) or suffer the consequences of providing an inferior product.

  22. It’s not ride sharing despite the winks and the nods. It’s commerce as broadly defined – the drivers are receiving benefit for performing a service. Therefore, to ensure the safe, responsible transmission of this service, I believe the state has not only a right but an obligation.

    To me that means:
    -Online registering of drivers. Some public recourse, if only to keep the companies honest. Saves undue bureaucracy.
    -Conspicuous decals
    -Extra safety inspection

    Let’s take this into the light and call it the legitimate business that it is.

    But:
    -NO turfs or medallions

    Per Will’s point, many enjoy this service, and the remote pay helps parents (so that older kids don’t get taken for a ride or have to carry cash), plus the obvious effects on competition.

    So I think it’s had a positive effect overall; I think a *light* government touch can help ensure safety without unduly burdening the companies.

  23. The taxi driver is right: all players should be bound by the same rules. De-regulate the taxis. Keep hands off Uber, Lyft, Fasten, Bridj, etc., and let the market (that is the customer population) decide.

  24. To Whom It May Concern:

    My name is George Akkeh and I own a taxi medallion in the city Cambridge. I have been driving my taxi in Cambridge for the past 25 years, and this business has supported my family of five. I made the decision to refinance in order to pay for my daughters’ college education, but the medallion has unfortunately lost its value due to companies such as Uber and Lyft. Business has decreased significantly, making it extremely difficult to pay the mortgage every month for the taxi, and many medallion owners have already lost their assets.

    I have several other concerns pertaining to Uber and Lyft. First, there are a limited number of taxis in each city, whereas there is no limit for services like Uber and Lyft. Second, our insurance costs are very high, whereas Uber and Lyft drivers do not have to pay the same prices. Third, our criminal record is checked every time we renew our license, whereas Uber and Lyft drivers do not have a process like this.

    Thank you for your time,

    Hi
    I have a family of five,a wife and three children and own a Taxi medallion in Cambridge.
    Refinanced to pay for my children’s college education,
    Because of Uber and lifts the medallion has no value and business is down,it’s very difficult to pay the mortgage at the end of each month and many medallion owners already lost their assets due to loss of business,
    -There are limited number of taxis in each city,there are no limit to services like Uber.
    -we pay high Insurence they don’t.
    -Our criminal record checked every time we Renew our license they don’t have such a thing and they don’t even have any license.
    -of course no matter how we check we will never know who is behind the wheels

    George

  25. I think required background checks for every driver maybe once every three months is a really good idea. If Uber has too many restrictions then us the citizens lose. Taxi service to me is very poor and always has been from the drivers to the cleanliness. However the bigger issue I understand is customor safety, The incidents that have occured are scary and awful. Maybe there is a way to have a special license plate..maybe a different bright color so people know for sure it is truly an Uber car. People that are out late drinking and what have you may not be thinking to identify the license plate numbers espcially when the cars are just regular cars a color may help, either way something more apparent needs to be on the cars that verify they are truly Uber drivers. Another thing Uber could do with their app is make more information about the driver available within legal guidelines of course. Also they could update their app to give people an option to let family members know they are in an uber via a n automated text.

  26. Thanks for the update and the well-reasoned analysis. I’ve posted before on this topic, so I won’t go into detail again. I concur with your “probablies” and especially that the Commonwealth should stay out of the vetting process.

    Same goes for setting ride standards–the rating function already ensures that the vast majority of cars are in much better shape than virtually any taxi. And when was the last time a taxi driver offered you a bottle of water and asked which radio station you’d like to hear? You mentioned some good ideas in this regard, but didn’t say specifically what you think might be good. I’d be skeptical. Even the decal idea seems more like putting a target on the car than an actual benefit to riders, especially if it has to be permanently affixed.

  27. 1) I have assumed that most Uber/Lyft drivers want to be considered employees and have normal benefits. I use Uber between 3-20 times wekly as I travel (or return home) and universally, drivers see their work as part time confering freedom, and despite their own self interest (in my opinion) none wants to be told what tpo do by Uber/Lyft or have any threshold on what would enable benefits.
    2) It seems that 10% of drivers are women, and with taxi’s I don’t recall when I have seen a woman driving in an urban areas. So these ride sharing services have made it possible for women to make a living behind the wheel.
    3) I see no need for any state regulation as the companies have a high interest in security and reputation. When I get in an Uber, I know the name, license plate, photo of the driver. And they know me. Dozens of reviews are available for the drivers and for me.
    4) No cash is on hand in the cab making it safer and easier for me and the driver.
    These ride sharing services seem like an example the only need for regulation comes from taxi medallion owners, and that’s a lousy reason to waste time on an issue that has not proved a problem yet.

    Thanks for listening.

  28. Many of the comments I’ve read here seem to support a hands-off position. I disagree. I feel that there should be some regulation (Option 2?). For me, it’s definitely a security concern.

  29. The safety / regulation issue is one I waffle over. Uber and Lyft don’t always vet drivers thoroughly, some I think some regulation is needed to check driving and police records — not every few months but once a year or every two years, like the MDV. BUT, the thought of YET ANOTHER governmental monitoring agency we would have to fund makes me groan. and I worry if their usual initial diligence and scrupulousness will degenerate (into what I won’t say).

    As for medallion taxi drivers losing their livelihood… hate to sound callous, but we have to allow for evolution and improvement in services.

  30. I think for now the state should keep out of it. This market is still evolving and perhaps in a few years it will make sense to regulate it, but jumping in right now could smother a new industry before it has a chance to get started. Uber and Lyft are HUGE improvements on the Boston cabs they are replacing.

  31. I worry about security for myself (an older person) and at this point, will not use Uber or similar. Don’t know the answer to the problem.

  32. 1. Why All TNC drivers are fingerprinted in NY City and not in Boston? Is the safety in Boston is less important?
    The TNC is claiming that fingerprinting is not allowing them to operate free so they can hire whoever they want – this is completely wrong.
    Personally I would never allow TNC to take my children or my relatives anywhere as they are not safe!!!!
    How many lawsuits UBER has today including sexual assaults, burglaries and ets.????? WHY do they have them?????
    2. Based on all recent litigation the TNC are operating illegally from the aspect of labor law (their drivers should be employees)It is only the question of time before TNC will be forced to make all their “independent” contractor into employees. The later will completely change their business model similar to what happened to FEDEX and other violators of Labor Law.
    4. The proper commercial insurance and clear identification for all TNC should be regulated and enforced. Otherwise the entire insurance for buses, shuttles and any other types of transportation should be completely revised. If the decision is made by legislature to revise the insurance then it has to be first revised, it has to become a new law and then all transportation will operate according to new laws. Allowing the “bullies” (TNC) to do it like they don’t need it is not correct.
    3. Would YOU support paying taxi medallion owners compensation or at least to pay them back money that WERE COLLECTED THROUGH MEDALLION AUCTION FROM TAXI OWNERS TO BUILD A NEW CONVENTION CENTER in Boston? That auction was a a clear misrepresentation by city and state. Do you think the city of Boston or State of MASS would be able to sell anything to public???? They lost trust and my vote for sure.
    4. The TNC are operating without any regulations like GYPCY Cabs. The reason they are so popular is because they don’t have to pay the same fees as taxi cabs, limos, shuttles and so they can undercut the prices. You should also pay attention to the federal case that will force city and state to regulate in a fair way or otherwise the judge will regulate this business. This would be a great news for state and city government officials if federal judge will have to do the job for local politicians.

  33. I think option 2 is the best option, given criminal issues with uber drivers in the recent past. So far the industry has not shown they have an abiding interest in rigorous criminal background checks and I think the state has to step in and mandate fingerprinting and CORI/SORI checks.

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