Senator Lesser Helps Develop, Pass New Legislation for Ride-Sharing Apps, like Uber and Lyft

BOSTON- Senator Lesser was a member of the Senate working group that authored new legislation for the ride-sharing industry, which passed the Senate yesterday. The bill, S.2371 .An Act Relative to the Ride for Hire Industry protects both drivers and riders, ensuring safety for those who use the apps and establishing a strong framework for companies and drivers moving forward. “This bill strikes a balance between innovation and public safety, and will serve as a model for the rest of the country,” said Senator Lesser. “I heard about the importance of ride-sharing apps at Millennial Engagement Roundtables across the Commonwealth. I’ve seen firsthand the benefit they provide to the economy in Western Massachusetts, where we rely heavily on cars to get around. Massachusetts is leading thoughtfully and creatively with this proposal.”

Ride-sharing apps, like Uber or Lyft, allow people to connect with drivers offering rides through a cell phone app. Drivers use their own cars and make their own hours, and users are able to call a ride from the GPS-enabled phone application. When a car is arriving, the app user is notified of the make, model and license plate number of the vehicle and is provided with a name, cell phone number and photo of their driver. The cost of the ride is dependent on demand at the time the ride is called.

Uber, one of the most common ride-sharing companies, had 1,000 drivers and 17,000 riders in Western Massachusetts as of February 2016. Ride-sharing apps are growing as a form of transportation in Western Massachusetts, where consumer choice is confined by the small number of taxis and the limited reach of the P.V.T.A.

These apps better connect the Western Massachusetts economy, a top priority for Senator Lesser. Ride-sharing app use is most prevalent around the 5 college area, downtown Springfield and Bradley Airport. These companies are making it easier to travel between communities in Western Massachusetts, and easier to connect to the rest of the region.

The Senate’s proposal acts to protect public safety. The bill requires that ride-sharing apps provide background checks of their drivers to the state, overseen by the Department of Public Utilities. It requires that drivers are at least 21 years old, that they are not registered sex offenders, haven’t been convicted of certain crimes in the last seven years, and have no major traffic violations in the past three years. It ensures inspection of vehicles, requires decals be visible on automobiles, and imposes a fine for using someone else’s driving certificate.

Further, this legislation increases consumer protection and ensures that the industry is transparent and held accountable. Under the bill, ride-sharing apps are prohibited from raising fares in a state of emergency and must clearly display fare estimates ahead of time. It also includes accommodations for disabled riders and ensures that customer service is available to app users.

Additionally, this bill ensures that cities and towns are able to manage the transition to this new technology. The proposal requires a ten cent surcharge per ride on ride-sharing apps that cannot be passed down to the rider. These funds will go directly to municipalities to support necessary transition spending, road repairs, and other transportation-related investments in the cities and towns served by the apps.

Sen. Lesser aided in the development of this bill in his capacity as Vice Chair of Financial Services and co-chair of the Millennial Engagement Initiative. He was an active member of the Senate’s working group, alongside Ways & Means Chair Karen Spilka, Financial Services Chair Jamie Eldridge, Judiciary Chair Will Brownsberger, and Intergovernmental Affairs Chair Linda Dorcena Forry. The working group drafted the bill after taking into account the input received from constituents, transportation companies and other stakeholders. At a ten-hour hearing in September, Senator Lesser heard the concerns of ride-sharing app drivers and users, taxi companies, tech experts and public safety officials, which were incorporated into the final version of the bill.

Important input for the bill was also gathered at Senator Lesser’s Millennial Engagement Roundtables. Senator Lesser hosted roundtables across the Commonwealth in his capacity as co-chair of the Millennial Engagement Initiative, speaking with millennials in Holyoke, Amherst, Springfield, Westfield,  Fall River, Lawrence and Quincy about issues important to them. Ride-sharing applications serve as an essential form of transportation for many young people in the Commonwealth.

The bill now goes to the House-Senate conference for consideration.