Boston's Mayor Does Not Want Uber Flap 'Dragging On'

The transportation task force is charged with looking at the city’s transportation policy as a whole, but the Uber fight has quickly risen to the top as Mayor Martin Walsh pushes a six- to eight-week deadline.

by Jordan Graham, McClatchy News Service / June 2, 2014

As the fight between livery app Uber and Boston’s taxi drivers heats up, Mayor Martin J. Walsh is accelerating plans to regulate new “ride-sharing” services, and for the first time is putting a deadline on his transportation task force.

“This needs to be addressed sooner rather than later,” Walsh told the Herald. “I want the regulations soon.”

Walsh said he wants a resolution “within six to eight weeks.”

The Boston Taxi Drivers Association has long clashed with the San Francisco company, which contracts local drivers. That fight loudly came to the streets recently, as hundreds of horn-blaring cabbies circled Uber’s Boston office near South Station for more than an hour.

The taxi drivers group and Uber have fired back at each other repeatedly in recent weeks. Uber said “rich taxi medallion owners” should focus on their own service instead of complaining about competition. Meanwhile, the taxi association has said Uber’s rates are deceptive, and its cars and drivers are unsafe.

“I don’t want this dragging on,” Walsh said.

The transportation task force, comprised of city and police officials and transportation industry representatives, is charged with looking at the city’s transportation policy as a whole, but the Uber fight has quickly risen to the top. Initially, the task force was not given a deadline.

Donna Blythe-Shaw, a spokeswoman for the taxi association, said a quick resolution is vital, and said the protest was successful.

“It did work, they’ve been heard,” Blythe-Shaw said, referring to the taxi drivers. “We’re delighted that the mayor is paying attention.”

In a statement, Uber said it is confident the regulations will allow it to continue to operate in Boston.

“Mayor Walsh recognizes the vitality of Uber to the city and we look forward to working with his transportation task force on crafting regulations that continue to offer Boston the options it deserves and improve the transportation ecosystem,” the statement said.

Still, it is unclear what will come out of the task force. Walsh repeatedly has expressed support for Uber, but Boston police Commissioner William B. Evans has in the past compared Uber to “Gypsy cabs.”

Uber has faced opposition from local taxi groups in many of the cities where it operates. In Chicago, the city council passed regulations that would require drivers for Uber and other ride-sharing companies to have chauffeur licenses and be insured.

©2014 the Boston Herald