Ride Sharing (Lyft/Uber) discussions

I thought you might be interested in this Committee Report on the feasibility of the City’s establishing agreements with rideshare services like Uber and Lyft.  There are a couple of Orders in the Report that ask the City to try to come up with a better solution than the somewhat confusing status we’re in now regarding cabs and rideshares.  This whole discussion, along with things like AirB&B, illustrates the challenge governments have in responding nimbly to changing technology that allows business of all sorts to be done in ways that differ from long-held traditions in which people have invested a lot of money, built relationships and have knowledge.  No easy answers here, but having these conversations on an ongoing basis, whether it’s about carsharing or policing or education, is important.  Uber and Lyft and Sidecar, or anything else, won’t stay the same, either, as self-driving cars and other changes in technology or the market or something else completely come down the pike, so we want to make sure our regulatory programs are robust enough to handle unknown but unavoidable changes as seamlessly as possible without suffocating innovation.  That challenge is part of what makes government service interesting!


Feel free to come speak about this issue Monday night if you wish, remembering we are meeting back at City Hall again.  You can sign up by phone between 9 and 3 on Monday at 617-349-4280 or in person at CRLS between 5 and 6.  Public comment sign up stops at 6, though the comment period itself may last longer.  You may also email the entire Council at Council@Cambridgema.gov.


Thanks a lot.



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Committee Report
Committee Report #3
Vice Mayor Dennis Benzan, Co-Chair
Councillor Denise Simmons, Co-Chair
Councillor Dennis Carlone
Councillor Nadeem Mazen
Councillor Marc McGovern
The Economic Development & University Relations Committee conducted a public hearing on May 19, 2015 beginning at 5:47 p.m. in the Sullivan Chamber.

The purpose of the hearing was to discuss how economic development impacts and supports the quality of life of Cambridge residents, and to investigate the feasibility of establishing an agreement with ride-share services such as Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar.

Present at the hearing were Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, Councillor Marc McGovern, Councillor Nadeem Mazen, and Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk.

Also present were Denise Jillson, Executive Director, Harvard Square Business Association, Parmjit Singh, Karam S. Giran, Abdul Kafal, Piara Pabla, Gundib Singh, Bafwin Dergash, Satnam Singh, Kuldip Singh, Stephen Kaiser, Walid Nakhoul, Tibor Hangyal, Katy Le, Martin O’Riordan, O. Hanpatrai, Kesner Elog, Max Gachette, Nelson Hernandez, Bassam Deeb, Emilio Lormil, Yahia Ali, Jacques Blemur, William Pierre, Munir Salah, Rene Flerime, Gustavo Hernandez, George Fiorenza, Raynold Morse, Hiratel Guerro, Pierre Chapeson, and Teodore Blemun.

Vice Mayor Benzan opened the meeting to public comment at 5:48 p.m.

Parmjit Singh stated that he has driven a cab for almost 18 years.  He stated that he cannot afford his mortgage or his taxes so he had to sell his house.  He stated that he comes from India and he is happy to drive a taxi.  He stated that he follows the rules and regulations.  He stated that one year ago he bought a medallion.  He stated that suddenly he sees everything is gone; he has lost his house.  He stated that big industry does not have to comply with city or state regulations.  He said that Uber drivers do not follow the law and asked why the City is not doing anything to help the taxi drivers.

Karam S. Giran stated that he has driven a taxi for twenty-five years.  He stated that these drivers of ride share services cause a big problem and do not have to follow any regulations.

Abdul Kafal stated that he owns two cabs.  He asked why the City is allowing the same business and service to take place in the City yet have different regulations.  He stated that he is from Lebanon and has been in the United States for 21 years.  He noted that Uber is taking his business.  Mr. Kafal added that many taxi drivers have spent years building their businesses.  He stated his hope that the City will do something to help the taxi industry.

Piara Pabla stated that he owns a medallion in Cambridge.  He commented that he would like the City to also regulate ride-share services in the same way that the taxi industry is regulated.

Gundib Sing explained that he owns a medallion in Cambridge.  He stated that it was his dream to own his own business.  He noted that as a taxi driver he is responsible to have insurance, inspections, criminal checks and medallions.  He asked why ride-share services are not required to follow the same regulations as the taxi industry.  He asked the city to stop Uber right away.

Bafwin Dergash stated that he has driven a cab for 21 years.  He stated that cab drivers work hard and invest in the business.  He stated that they trust in the system but suddenly Uber has come and nobody is stopping them or regulating them.  He asked why they can drive people without any licensing.  He stated that Cambridge is independent and should make its own regulations.  He stated his hope that the City of Cambridge will put together regulations for the ride-share services.  He said that that taxi drivers cannot pay their mortgages or expenses and he urged the City to require Uber to follow the rules and regulations of the taxi industry.

George Fiorenza, owner Ambassador Brattle Yellow Cab, stated that there are over 250 regulated cabs.  He stated that Uber has over 15,000 cars.  He stated that if you allow Uber or Lyft there will be an influx of traffic.  He stated that owners have invested over $600,000 per medallion and that this is their livelihood.  He added that 90% of Uber drivers work part-time.  Mr. Fiorenza urged Cambridge to follow in the footsteps of Braintree to regulate ride-sharing services.

Steven Kaiser, Hamilton Street, stated that there are good and bad impacts of development in Cambridge.  He was attracted to the topic of impact of development.  He stated that one negative impact is the historical example of Kendall Square with no consideration of the impact on the Red Line.  He stated that a number of the developers in Kendall Square have gotten together to improve the Red Line.  He stated that the Volpe site developers are also involved.  He stated that University Park in Cambridgeport is a superb development and that this is a good image to follow.  He stated that Alewife is a bad example with 30 years of worsening congestion, and disregard for infrastructure.

Walid Nakhoul stated that a person has to buy a medallion in the open market and the city must approve the sale.  He stated that he invested millions of dollars into his business and works seven days a week.  He commented that Uber allows its drivers to do whatever they want.  He stated that what they are doing is nonsense.  He stated that other countries do not allow this.  He asked why Uber is not regulated.  He stated that competition is a good thing as long as it is on a level playing field.  He urged the City of Cambridge to take the lead.  He stated that if the taxi industry crashes, people will lose everything.  He stated that the law is the law and right is right.

Tibor Hangyal, 207 Magazine Street, stated that Uber refuses to abide by the rules and regulations.  He stated that the minimum requirement when driving the general public is a background check and commercial insurance.  He noted that Uber pays any issues as they relate to accidents because it is in their best interest.  He added that once Uber puts the taxi business out of business they will not be so inclined to handle claims.  He stated that vehicles should be marked and numbered so that law enforcement can spot them and a local phone number should be listed just as it is required for a taxi.  He added that these are simple things and minimal requirements.  He stated that the City of Cambridge took Uber to court.  He stated that GPS is not 100% and accurate and cannot be calibrated.  He stated that the City of Cambridge checks every taxi twice a year in addition to the state requirement which makes the inspection process three times per year.  He urged the City to follow Braintree’s initiative in that if anyone is caught without a livery or license the vehicle will be towed and impounded until the court date.  He asked if the handicapped community will be served by Uber when the taxi industry is out of business.  He added that that there is no reason to accept surge pricing.

Martin O’Riordan, 61 Brookline Avenue, Boston, stated that he is a Senior Vice President at Commerce Bank.  He stated his support to the taxi industry.  He strongly suggested that once the City looks through Uber’s numbers and manipulation of figures you will find a different story than what they tell.  He added that Commerce finances many of the taxi industry owners.

Nelson Hernandez stated that he is the owner of a cab and has been a taxi driver for 21 years.  Mr. Hernandez pointed out that the taxi industry is always giving back to Cambridge.  He stated that Cambridge taxis give back to the City and all that they ask in return is for fairness and a level playing field.  He stated that most of the people that drive for Uber are cab rejects because they cannot work as cab drivers.  He stated that Uber cars do not follow the rules.  He stated that the police are not policing because they are not allowed to do so.  He stated that half of the Uber drivers do not know the city.  He stated that cabs have to pay insurance and Uber does not.  He stated that they have many expenses.  He believes that this is an illegal company and Cambridge should not have to wait to see what Boston is going to do.  He stated that the bank tells him he has nothing.  He pointed out that there was a rape case involving an Uber driver not long ago.  He said that safety is the biggest issue and Uber should have to follow the same regulations as the taxi industry.

Bassam Deeb stated that he has worked for Ambassador since 1984.  He stated that he does not understand how the City can allow Uber to operate first and then attempt to regulate after-the-fact.  He stated that he would like the Police to be able to regulate Uber similar to the way that Boston regulates Uber.  He stated that Las Vegas, Germany, Braintree and other places have banned Uber.

Emilio Lormil said that he has been driving a cab since 1991.  He stated that this is a very scary time for families because they have invested their time and monies into the taxi industry.  He explained that in November 2013 he invested $660,000 to buy a medallion.  One year later that medallion is worth nothing.  He stated that the taxi industry is facing a crisis.  He said that taxi drivers work for the City of Cambridge and the city is not defending them.  He stated that drivers from other states come to Cambridge to take their jobs.  He remarked that the City has to do something to help the taxi industry.

Yahir Ali said that he has been driving a taxi for 20 years.  He stated that it is a very bad situation.  He noted that Uber drivers invest nothing except an initial fee of $300 and a car.  He stated that the taxi industry is suffering.  He asked the City of Cambridge to stop Uber drivers as soon as possible.

Jacques Blemur stated that the Cambridge taxi industry welcomes the challenge in technology and wants to do it in a way that everyone plays by the same rules.  He urged the City to regulate the ride-sharing servers.

William Pierre stated that the taxi companies are being treated unfairly.  He stated that the time is now for the City of Cambridge to take actions to protect the taxi industry.  He asked how the City can allow others to try to kill the taxi company.

Munir Salah stated that the only way to stop this situation is for the City to work together with the taxi industry.  He added that Uber should not be allowed in Cambridge.

Rene Flerime stated that he has been in the taxi business for 14 years.  He stated that it is difficult to drive a taxi right now.  He stated that taxi owners spend a lot of money monthly to keep the business.  He added that some pay $10,000 per year for insurance.  He stated that they pay for inspections twice a year and taxes for the corporation.  He stated that Uber does none of this.  He stated that he does not know why Uber cannot be stopped in Cambridge.  He stated that the City of Cambridge lets Uber pick up fares in Cambridge illegally.  He added that if a taxi driver goes into Boston to pick up a fare they will get a $500 fine.  He noted that it is fair of the City to place regulations on Uber.

Gustavo Hernandez stated that the taxi industry struggles on a daily basis.  He stated that it is not fair that the City has not helped.  He stated his hope that the people in power are here for the taxi industry.  He stated that the City is bleeding from this situation.  He stated that they need the help of the License Commission.

Pierre Chapeson stated that he has been a taxi driver for 25 years and owns three taxis.  He stated that he has seen the private car service take over the taxi industry.  He asked how this is legal.  He stated that Braintree and New Hampshire have stopped this practice and he would like to see Cambridge help the taxi industry.

Denise Jillson stated that there has been discussion about Uber for the past few years.  She stated that taxi drivers have a long tradition in which the taxi drivers are trained.  She stated that the City ensures that everyone who graduates from the taxi school is qualified.  She stated that it is important to level the playing field.  She stated that the City must ensure a level playing field.  She stated that Braintree did a very good job.  Ms. Jillson commented that people use Uber in many cases because the service that is provided is good and the cars are immaculate.  She added that she has reported this to the taxi school organizers and suggested that Cambridge taxi drivers step up their game.  She stated that the taxis have to be clean and cannot smell like cigarette smoke.  She added that it is the consumer who ultimately decide what type of transportation to utilize.  She stated that if the consumer decides to use Uber, it is important to ask why they are not using Cambridge taxis.

Virgel stated that he got his medallion over four years ago.  He stated that many drivers treat the customers the right way but noted that the problem is that Uber is a billion dollar business.  He stated that the taxi industry wants the help of the City.

Public comment closed at 6:55 p.m.

Vice Mayor Benzan stated that the playing field is not level.  He stated that the taxi industry is highly regulated and it is important for the City to figure something out.  He stated that Cambridge is one of the most innovative cities in the world but added that it has to be a collaborative effort.  He stated that he has driven in cabs that are sub-par and if the Cambridge taxi industry wants to compete it must step up its game.  Vice Mayor Benzan added that it is important to make it as easy as possible for the customers to use taxis.  He stated his hope that the committee can come up with practical solutions.  He stated that one of the biggest concerns with Uber is that they can pick up customers in any city but if Cambridge-based cabs pick up outside of Cambridge there is a $500 fine.  He added that one area that should be looked at is deregulation.  He stated that if the City looks at deregulating as a solution, taxis will probably pay a lot less money out of pocket.  He added that the taxi industry has to reinvent itself.

Councillor McGovern thanked the speakers for sharing their stories.  He stated that the playing field needs to be leveled and the ease in which someone can become an Uber driver, compared to what Cambridge requires of its cab drivers, is amazing.  He stated that he has been mistaken for an Uber driver which is concerning.  Councillor McGovern said that safety is a serious concern.  He stated that there are things that the City must do to even the playing field.  He echoed Ms. Jillson and Vice Mayor Benzan’s comments regarding cab drivers stepping up their game.  He stated that there is a public relations problem that the taxi industry must tackle.  He stated that in Austin, Texas, the City has an application for their city-run taxis.  He affirmed the need to do this in Cambridge as well.  It is about convenience for people.  There is a customer service piece that needs to be taken on so the City can do its part around regulations.  He stated that he supports the taxi industry but noted the need for a combined effort.

Councillor Mazen stated that there is some good news on the horizon.  He stated that there is a lot that can be done to support the hard-working people who have worked for the City.  He stated that Governor Baker is about to introduce legislation that will require Uber to comply with certain regulations.  He stated that it is important for the Cambridge taxi industry to get an application that unites local taxis and a decal or marketing and messaging campaign to urge the support of the local taxi industry.  He stated that given how Uber has raised the bar, it would be beneficial to work with the business associations and others to create an application similar to that of Uber.  He stated that the state is working top down to restrict Uber and noted that it is important to come together on this issue.

Councillor McGovern stated that he has heard varying numbers of Uber drivers in the area and questioned the environmental impact of ride-sharing service providers especially in light of the fact that Cambridge is doing a lot to discourage use of cars.  He stated that if you go on the Uber application you can order a taxi but it comes from Boston, not Cambridge.  Councillor McGovern said that it gives Boston cars an unfair advantage over others.

Vice Mayor Benzan noted that another important issue to include in the conversation regarding Uber is surge pricing.  He stated that he sees the first step in leveling the playing field is the creation of an application and resourcing the city in that endeavor.

Who will pay for it?  City collects fee on an annual basis – include in order that percentage of fees to develop an application wherein Cambridge taxi can compete with companies like Uber and Lyft.  This is the first step.

Councillor McGovern stated that sometimes the wheels of government move slowly and because of this, it may be beneficial for the taxi industry to take the lead in the creation of an application and market campaign.  He noted that the City Council can certainly urge the City administration to get behind these initiatives.  He added that it is sometimes the case that the private sector works much faster.

Councillor McGovern made the following motion:

ORDERED:  That the Mayor be and hereby is requested to convene a Roundtable meeting with the City Manager, License Commission and City Solicitor to update the City Council on what is currently done by the City regarding the taxi industry as well as concerns of the taxi drivers with a view in mind of developing a plan moving forward as it relates to ride hailing services.

The motion passed.

Councillor McGovern made the following motion:

ORDERED:  That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to work with the Information Technology Department and License Commission and representatives of the taxi industry with the view in mind of developing a universal application similar to what is used by Uber and other ride-hailing services to make it easier for customers to utilize taxi service as well as the consideration of integrating into a buy local marketing campaign.

The motion passed.

Vice Mayor Benzan stated that he looks forward to working with the taxi industry on this important issue and thanked all those present for their attendance.

The hearing was adjourned at 7:20 p.m. on the motion of Councillor Mazen.

For the Committee,

Vice Mayor Dennis Benzan, Co- Chair Economic Development & University Relations


2 Responses to “Ride Sharing (Lyft/Uber) discussions”

Read below or add a comment...

  1. Evavosper says:

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    Regards: Eva Vosper

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