BOSTON (STATE HOUSE) – Gov. Charlie Baker on Friday afternoon signed into law what he described as the strongest regulatory framework in the country for app-based ride-for-hire services like Uber and Lyft.
“I want to start by thanking the Legislature for pushing this one through,” Baker said after signing the bill in his office. “There were a number of times after we filed our legislation and during the course of the debate that ensued that I think many of us worried that we would not be able to put in place a regulatory framework for transportation networking companies here in the commonwealth, and there were definitely some big issues that had to be resolved as part of that debate.”
Baker filed a bill to regulate ride-for-hire companies in April 2015. The House passed its ride-hail bill in March of this year and the Senate in June, sending their differing versions to a conference committee charged with producing a compromise.
The final version, agreed to by the committee Sunday night and sent to Baker’s desk about an hour later, sets up a new division in the Department of Public Utilities to regulate services like Uber and Lyft, with its work financed by a surcharge on revenues earned by the transportation companies.
A new two-tiered background check system will charge both the state and the transportation company with reviewing the information of people who apply to be drivers. Drivers will be required to pay commercial toll rates and to display decals on their cars that identify them as rides-for-hire. The legislation also sets insurance thresholds for ride-hailing companies and leaves it up to Massport and the Boston Convention Center Authority to develop their own regulations for how ride-hailing companies can operate on their properties.
“By all accounts, this is the strongest public safety structure in the country that’s been put in place since this issue associated with what is going to be the process for background checks associated with transportation networking companies, and we’ve heard from Uber and from Lyft and from the other players that this standard that we’re putting in place here in the commonwealth is the most comprehensive and the most rigorous one in the country,” Baker said. “I think it’s a heck of a lot better than no standard, which is for all intents and purposes where we were before.”
The legislation also creates a new fee, charging the transportation network companies 20 cents per ride. Of that money, 10 cents will go back to the municipality where a passenger is picked up, five cents to the state Department of Transportation and five cents to MassDevelopment for grants to help the taxi and livery industries improve technology and provide workforce development for drivers.
Scott Solombrino, a spokesman for the Ride Safe Massachusetts coalition of taxi and livery drivers, said the fee will serve as a “good thing for the cab industry, which will get some remediation to help with technology.”
“I think the cab industry was on it’s deathbed, and now it’s come off the bed and it’s getting well,” said Solombrino, the CEO of Dav El/Boston Coach. “We just have to innovate.”
Praising the background check, decal and commercial toll requirements, Solombrino said, “Today, I’m a winner.” Taxi drivers and some law enforcement officials, including Boston Police Commissioner William Evans, had urged lawmakers to including fingerprinting as part of the required background check for drivers, but that approach did not win favor in either the House or the Senate.
The money for the taxi industry will sunset after five years, while the other two surcharges will sunset after 10 years.
Baker has repeatedly come out against raising taxes or fees and last month said he stands by his “no-new-taxes view of the world.”
“We said all along that if the commonwealth is providing a new service, and it’s a service that we believe is an important service, that incorporating a fee to deal with that is perfectly appropriate,” Baker said Friday.
The governor said raising fees to “keep doing the same thing” would show “not a heck of a lot of respect for the people that are paying the fees in the first place.”
The law allows one year for the gradual implemenation of the new regulations in order to ensure service by the companies is not interrupted, according to Baker’s office.
Baker was joined for the bill signing by Lieutenant Gov. Karyn Polito, Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton, Public Safety Secretary Daniel Bennett, and officials from the Department of Public Utilities and Division of Insurance.
Uber Boston General Manager Chris Taylor said the company is looking forward to working with the Baker administration to implement the law and to “ensure it increases transportation options and economic growth.”
“We are grateful for Governor Baker’s support and the legislature’s effort towards creating a framework that embraces an innovative industry that has changed the way the Commonwealth moves,” Taylor said in a statement.
Copyright 2016 State House News Service