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Wednesday, July 17, 2024 | Back issues
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Traditional Boston Taxis Sue Over Uber, Lyft

BOSTON (CN) - Smartphone-based car services like Uber and Lyft are allowed to operate in Boston without the same oversight traditional taxi companies and drivers face, cabbies claims in Federal Court.

The Boston Taxi Owners Association filed the Jan. 16 complaint along with Raphael Ophir and Joseph Pierre, two Massachusetts-based owners of taxicab mediallions, taking aim at the city, Massachusetts and various public officials.

Taxi medallions can cost in the neighborhood of $700,000, and are mandatory for traditional taxi companies to operate in the city, but the Internet-based ride services, described in the complaint as "Transportation Network Companies," are not required to pay or apply for such documents. Shift drivers pay medallion owners rent, upwards of $500 per week, to drive their cabs.

Ride-sharing start-ups like Uber, operating in Boston since 2011, offer consumers an app-based, "black car" alternative to hailing a cab.

In addition to providing riders with conveniences such as exact car location and estimated arrival time of a named and pictured driver, the fares are automatically charged to a user's online account, obviating the need for cash or credit card.

But traditional taxis insist that these "de facto taxi companies" cannot distinguish their business activity solely by virtue of their dispatch medium.

Indeed traditional taxis "now use smartphones" as well, the complaint states.

With Boston having taken great pains in recent years to establish itself as a "start-up-friendly" city, even coining one area of town the "Innovation District," it has been hesitant to hinder business for the new car services on the scene.

Recently elected Mayor Marty Walsh has voiced support for rideshare services in the city and has convened a task force to discuss how to address evolving concerns and conflicts.

Just days before the complaint was filed, Uber made a widely publicized announcement they would share data with the city of Boston in what Uber called a "first of its kind partnership."

The company is set to give the city information regarding dates and times of trips, zip codes for pickup and drop-offs, distances traveled and trip durations.

Boston has said it plans to use the data to inform policy decisions concerning traffic planning, zoning and parking changes, and expects to receive data on a quarterly basis.

The Taxi Owners Association's 25-page complaint criticizes Boston for its unfair treatment of the app-based services, and for prohibiting a taxicab from operating in the city without one of the 1,825 costly, city-issued taxi medallions.

"Medallion owners must file annual reports of their financial condition, disclosing all liens, mortgages and judgments, can be required to provide tax returns and must provide the Inspector of Carriages with the names of every individual with an ownership interest in the medallion," while "de fecto taxi companys are not subject to any of these requirements," the complaint states.

The regulations taxi companies abide by "are designed to ensure that taxi services in Boston will operate safely, reliably and without discrimination," the complaint continues.

With Boston-based Uber drivers accused in three sexual assaults just last month, public support for more regulation may increase.

According to the boston.com, the general manager of Uber's Boston operations Meghan Joyce said Uber is, "very supportive of reasonable regulations" for "public safety and consumer choice." Joyce pointed to recently passed regulations in Washington, D.C. , as a model she supports.

Braintree-based Schlossberg LLC attorney Jenifer Pinkham represents the plaintiffs behind the lawsuit in Boston.

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