Uber, the car service consisting of a smartphone app that allows customers to request a car to their exact location, has made a name for itself among city dwellers. College students especially have taken to using Uber as a reliable way to get themselves around the city just by a tap on their cell phones.
However, not everyone is smitten with the convenience and popularity of the service. In wake of Uber’s growing presence in Boston, local taxi companies have joined together to protest the company’s allegedly illegal practices, demanding that Uber be subject to the same regulations that taxi drivers themselves are required to follow.
Uber’s unregulated system has been a growing cause for concern for cabbies, who fear losing more and more business as passengers choose Uber, or similar companies such as Lyft and SideCar, over the traditional taxi.
John Boit, a representative for the anti-Uber campaign called “Who’s Driving You,” condemns Uber’s business practices. “Uber is attempting to avoid the major cost of running a transportation company,” Boit said, referring to the fact that Uber is not bound by regulations that drive up costs for cab companies.
On May 22, taxi drivers in the Boston area staged a protest in front of the Uber headquarters near South Station, relentlessly honking their car horns for an hour and calling for Mayor Marty Walsh to take action and assert more control Uber and similar companies.
Donna Blythe-Shaw, a spokesperson for the Boston Taxi Drivers Association, said that mayor should bring taxi companies and all other ride-sharing companies like Uber together under a civilian commission, which could then establish uniform regulations that would level out competition among for-hire vehicle services.
Mayor Walsh stated that he would take the concerns into consideration and form a transportation task force to look deeper into the issue, but is also taking both sides into account, rationalizing that “we cannot turn a blind eye to public safety concerns around unregulated modes of transportation, but we also cannot condemn a popular, effective service that takes responsible steps to ensure the safety of their users.”
Uber Technologies Inc., the tech company responsible for the vehicle service, is one of the most valuable startups in
the world. After receiving investments from three Boston firms earlier this month, the company is currently valued at $17 billion, and operates in 128 cities in 37 countries. The new funding gives Uber the ability to further expand its reach into the global transportation industry.
The Cambridge License Commission is meeting Thursday evening to discuss regulations. Among them are several that would make Uber and its fellow ride-sharing services illegal unless they begin to adhere to the same city rules that taxi cabs are subject to, serving as yet another chapter in the ongoing dispute between ride-sharing companies and traditional taxi firms.