Boston Convention Center Considers Geo-Fence to Keep Uber Out

The center is considering supporting a proposal to implement a geo-fence or electronic blocker of ride hailing services, but the measure could affect local businesses as well.

by O'Ryan Johnson, Boston Herald / April 21, 2016
The Boston Convention and Exhibition Center Flickr/Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism

(TNS) -- The Boston Convention and Exhibition Center is warning that the bill to regulate Uber and Lyft now before the Legislature could cut the popular ride-hailing services from a large swath of South Boston’s booming Seaport District.

A measure that would give licensed taxis five years of exclusive rights to the BCEC would force the convention center to use a “geo-fence,” or electronic blocker, to restrict the app-based ride-hailing services from accessing customers there, said James Folk, the BCEC’s transportation director.

“You’d have to put up a geo-fence around our property, which encompasses an area down to E Street. That would affect businesses across the street, the Dunkin’ Donuts, hotels. ... One of our venues is the Lawn on D. A lot of millennials who go out there use (transportation network companies).”

It could also affect service at the Westin Hotel next door, the Boston Herald across the street and other nearby corporate offices and condos.

“It could affect our business as well,” Folk said. When organizers select a venue to host a convention, transportation is a top consideration, he said. Banning Uber and Lyft would make the city less competitive.

“If we limit transportation options at our venue, the decision to go somewhere else becomes a little easier to make,” Folk said. “We’re the only convention center to have to consider a ban. We want to all options available.”

The bill passed the House on March 9. The Senate has not acted on it yet.

State Rep. Michael Moran (D-Brighton), who backed the BCEC restriction, said he and other House members want to give taxis a leg up in their fight against the popular ride-hailing services.

“We’ve been regulating public transportation, ferries, buses and, in particular taxis. We’ve been regulating them for 80 years,” Moran said. “Giving some value to those medallions is an important piece of it. This allows them to catch up with the technology.”

Moran said the call for exclusivity at the BCEC is also based on the fact the convention center was partially financed by the sale of taxi medallions.

“When we were building the convention center, taxi medallions were issued to help with the financing,” Moran said. “It seems only fair, since they helped finance the building, that seems like an obvious place where there should be some exclusivity given to the medallion owners.”

Folk said while the BCEC is grateful for the $36 million that was raised in 1998 by sale of 235 medallions, the convention center has paid back cabbies with fares. Despite ride-hailing competition, last year was the BCEC’s best for cab fares, with more than 130,000 rides, and 2016 is on track to top that, he said.

“We don’t see that we’re taking anything away from the taxis,” Folk said.

©2016 the Boston Herald Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.