Ride-sharing behemoth Uber will begin sharing anonymized data about every trip that begins or ends in a Boston zip code with city officials.

The move comes as new statewide regulations for ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft are set to take effect this week. If it seems like this signals an end to a months-long effort by the city to determine how to best regulate ride-sharing in Boston, or a years-long effort by the taxi industry to shut them down, think again. It's a little more complicated than that. 

Steven Regan, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Taxi Advocacy Group, says that in the ride-for-hire game, there are two distinct groups:

"You have one group that’s still operating under the constraints of the laws that are in place and they are costly."

That’s the taxi drivers. Medallions required to operate a cab cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, there are all kinds of fees to be paid, and the price of each ride is fixed by law.

"And you have someone else that’s allowed to do so without those fiscal constraints.”

That would be the ride-sharing companies. They set their own price. No medallions needed. Drivers drive their own cars – and carry their own insurance.  For months, the taxi industry has said not only is this unfair – it’s illegal.
Enter the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In the waning days of Governor Deval Patrick’s administration, the state quickly created a new classification for vehicles used for ride sharing – and a new set of rules to regulate them. Regan’s group is not happy with the plan.  

"It's a stain on Governor Patrick's administration. I wouldn't call a codification of someone's current business practices regulation. In fact, I'd say it's deregulating them,” he said.
Under the new rules - which require background checks for drivers and adequate insurance – not much will change for Uber. General manager for Uber Boston Meghan Verena Joyce has lauded the move. She said if the regulations mirror what Uber’s already been doing, it’s because they’ve been doing the right thing.

"As part of our commitment to keeping our riders and drivers safe we do make sure that every driver in the system has gone through a rigorous background check. We ensure that every ride requested on the system is insured with a million dollars of commercial liability insurance,” she said.
Some law enforcement officials have questioned the quality of Uber’s background checks. And some in the insurance industry have voiced concerns about the validity of their insurance plans.

Critics have even questioned the legality of the state’s plan. Regan said his group will petition now Governor Charlie baker to change course. And he expects both sides of the debate to introduce legislation on Beacon Hill this week. Verena Joyce says Uber is all for that.

"We will move forward in helping the legislature understand the need for these regulations across the board and helping the legislature finish what Governor Patrick and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation started."
Even if the matter gets settled on the state level, here in Boston further reform is afoot for both ride-share services and taxis. Chris English chairs Mayor Marty Walsh’s Taxi Advisory committee, which includes nearly every stakeholder - Uber, Lyft, taxi drivers and owners, law enforcement. After months of work, they are poised to soon make their official recommendation to the Mayor.

"The mayor was really committed to making sure that we were listening to as many voices as possible in order to create this really comprehensive new policy for the city,” English said.
With the new state regulations set to take effect this week, the battle over the legality of Uber and Lyft may be over, but the war over the future of how ride-for-hire services will be handled here in the Bay State appears to just be getting underway.

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