Massachusetts lawmakers go home for holidays; no action on ridesharing
The adjournment caps a year of uncertainty for the services. Last December, former Gov. Deval Patrick made a last-ditch attempt in the waning weeks of his lame-duck tenure to propose a legal framework for ridesharing. Patrick’s proposal, which never got off the ground, would have seen the Department of Public Utilities issue certificates to operate to firms like Lyft and Uber and charged the DPU with policing whether the transportation network companies comported with basic standards for liability insurance and criminal background checks.
When he took office in January, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker directed the DPU to allow the firms to operate for six months while more formal regulations could be drafted. He also solicited proposals from insurance companies for how the risks stemming from ridesharing services could be covered. In October, the Commonwealth’s Division of Insurance announced that USAA became the first insurer to be approved to offer additional coverages for ridesharing drivers, in their case a coverage endorsement for drivers who are logged in to a transportation network company application, but have not responded to a request for a ride.
In April, Baker introduced H.3351, legislation that would:
- Require drivers to undergo background checks through Massachusetts’ Criminal Offender Record Information system, which does not include a fingerprint-based check.
- Mandate a minimum $1 million in liability coverage any time a ridesharing transaction in progress, as well as requiring that drivers have coverage (either on their own or through the TNCs) any time they are logged in to the ridesharing application.
- Order the Department of Public Utilities to hire at least five full-time staffers to regulate ridesharing, funded by fees on the transportation network companies, and to develop rules in consultation with a municipal advisory group.
- Require drivers to mark which services they work for through the use of a decal or other visible marker on their vehicles.
Though the measure had support from the major ridesharing service, unlike many statewide TNC bills that have passed over the last two years, Baker’s proposal would not pre-empt municipalities from imposing more stringent regulations.
A competing bill – H. 3702, sponsored by state Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry, D-Dorchester, and state Rep. Michael Moran, D-Brighton – enjoyed support from the incumbent taxi industry. That bill would require fingerprint background checks, which take longer to complete. It would require all vehicles to carry their own commercial insurance, which would appear to foreclose the kinds of liability policies Uber and Lyft currently have. It also would bar ridesharing drivers from using vehicles that are more than 5 years old; ban the practice of “surge pricing” during periods of high demand; and explicitly prohibit TNC drivers from operating at Boston’s Logan International Airport.
The session also saw introduction of two other bills. S. 559 – a bill from state Sen. James Timilty, D-Walpole – dealt solely with insurance requirements, which are broadly similar to those set out in Gov. Baker’s proposal.
State Rep. William Smitty Pignatelli, D-Lenox, introduced H. 931, a bill that would require each company to pay a $5,000 permitting fee. Pignatelli’s bill otherwise is in some ways looser than the Baker proposal, in that it would rely on company-performed background checks, rather than the state-run process, and would allow drivers as young as 19, compared to the minimum age of 21 set in the governor’s bill.
All four bills were the subject of a Sept. 15 hearing of the Joint Committee on Financial Services, but none have moved through the committee to receive floor attention. Because the Massachusetts Legislature operates on a two-year cycle, the bills are still technically “live” and any or all of them could be resolved in 2016.