The turf war between Uber drivers and taxi cab drivers is heating up in Boston, with Uber gaining broader support from local regulators. The outcome of transportation negotiations in Boston could serve as a model for other municipalities dealing with these issues and could have somewhat damaging implications for transparency.
As CivSource reported in January, Uber recently launched an effort to provide ride and transportation data to cities as part of its charm tour for regulators. Boston was the first city to voluntarily get data, but according to a recent public records request from the Boston Herald, the city agreed to keep the data secret despite existing open data and open records policies. The agreement was crafted through a specific exemption in both of those laws that allows voluntary data to remain secret.
Uber claims that the information could be useful to its competitors and thus wants the information to remain private. The city of New York has requested the same data but the company has denied its request underlining opacity and selectivity within the program.
This week, local taxi drivers in Boston filed in court against Uber saying that the app itself was cannibalizing their business by removing street hails. What prompted the complaint from the Boston Taxi Drivers Association was a new regulation that would allow anyone who pre-arranges rides to pick up passengers which is the set up that Uber relies on. The following day, the governor of Massachusetts directed the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) to issue public notice clarifying the status of Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) allowing services like Uber and Lyft to continue operating while issues around hailing passengers, transportation data, and other regulations are hashed out in court and the statehouse.
According to the statement from the governor’s office, new Registry of Motor Vehicle (RMV) regulations issued in December require TNCs to be licensed by the state and permit drivers who work with licensed TNCs to use private vehicles to drive paying passengers. But, because a TNC licensing framework must be developed through legislation, the RMV regulations allow TNC drivers to use private vehicles for a six-month period, during which the Baker Administration will develop a licensing framework – all in consultation with cities, industry leaders, and stakeholders, including Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone.
Boston’s Taxi Advisory Committee has been developing a new city policy on for hire transportation services which will be included in the process according to Boston Mayor Martin Walsh.