Taxicab drivers and owners decried proposed Massachusetts regulations on popular transportation companies like Uber and Lyft, while rideshare drivers defended their jobs at a packed and heated public hearing Wednesday.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who leaves office Jan. 8, wants to give the state Department of Public Utilities authority to regulate so-called ridesharing services, which allow users to request and pay for a car service through their cellphones.
But taxi drivers said at the hearing that the state is trying to legitimize an industry that has been operating illegally for years, at the expense of their highly-regulated industry.
“They are illegal and they need to be taken off the street now,” said Donna Blythe-Shaw of the Boston Taxi Drivers Association.
Dawn Kennedy, a Boston Lyft driver, said working as a rideshare driver changed her life.
“If you’re so unhappy, come to Lyft,” she said to booing and heckling cab drivers. “I’ll accept you with open arms.”
Officials from Uber and Lyft said they support the proposal but suggested some changes.
Katie Kincaid, Lyft’s government relations manager, said many elements of the state’s proposed “common carrier” designation for rideshares are “not applicable and, in many ways, run contrary” to the business model.
Meanwhile, an insurance industry representative said the proposal did not adequately address insurance concerns.
Frank O’Brien of the Property Casualty Insurers Association said there is no insurance coverage in Massachusetts for drivers engaged in ridesharing operations. He said a number of insurers have added specific provisions to their policies that limit or prohibit coverage for those drivers.
And Boston Police Capt. Jim Gaughan said his department has concerns about the level of background checks that rideshare companies say they are conducting on their drivers.
“We don’t have any way of knowing who is driving these vehicles,” he said.
A Boston Uber driver was recently charged with sexually assaulting a woman who had summoned the ride-sharing service.
Uber and Lyft say they perform thorough driver evaluations and their drivers are protected by their company’s $1 million commercial automobile liability coverage, which they say is far greater than what taxis provide in the Boston area.
Patrick’s proposal would require rideshare companies to obtain state operations certificates and conduct criminal background checks on drivers, among other things.
State officials stress the regulations require additional steps before they are finalized. Another public hearing is slated for Jan. 2, and lawmakers will likely have to approve related legislation when they convene for the new session.
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