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Could Traffic-Clogged Boston Be Next To Cap Ride-Sharing? State Law Says, 'No'

Uber-Honolulu Bill
Uber driver Joshua Oh drives in Honolulu on June 6, 2018.
Caleb Jones/AP

After New York City moved to cap the number of licenses awarded to ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft — the first such restriction for a major city — it’s only logical to wonder: Could traffic-clogged cities like Boston be the next to crack down?

The short answer appears to be: No — at least, not anytime soon.

That’s because in Massachusetts ride-share companies are regulated under state, not municipal, law.

In fact, the 2016 Massachusetts law creating the first statewide regulations for so-called “Transportation Network Companies,” or TNC's explicitly states that, “No municipality or other local or state entity, except the Massachusetts Port Authority may impose a tax on or require any additional license for a transportation network company.”

Meanwhile, the state Department of Public Utilities, which oversees ride-sharing regulation, is not moving in the direction of new restrictions.

“There is currently no proposal before the Department of Public Utilities’ TNC Division to limit or cap the number of TNC driver certificates issued by the TNC Division," DPU Spokesperson Katie Gonendyke told WGBH News in an email.

(There could, however, be a loophole. While the law broadly prohibits local regulations, it does say that "a municipality or other local or state entity may regulate traffic flow and traffic patterns to ensure public safety and convenience.")

Eric Bourassa, director of transportation for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, supports state policymakers taking a cautious approach to any new regulations or restrictions.

“I think at this point it's premature to be talking about putting a cap on [ride-sharing services],” Bourassa told WGBH News.

Bourassa said more data is needed.

“We really need to understand what is the impact of these services on transportation, and then we can start to formulate what the right policies and regulations are,” he said.

Earlier this year, MAPC issued a report based on new state data around ride-sharing services required to be collected under the state’s regulations.

That report found there were roughly 65 million rides via Uber and Lyft in 2017, roughly 35 million of those in the Greater Boston area.

The report also found that at least some of those rides appear to be supplanting, or replacing, public transit, bicycling and walking.

But, Bourassa noted, as big as those numbers seem, they still represented only a fraction of overall road traffic.

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