Uber, Lyft face licensing regulations in Massachusetts

Governor Charlie Baker will develop regulations for ride-hailng companies in the next six months

Regulations for ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft are coming down the road in Massachusetts.

Over the next six months, the administration of Republican Governor Charlie Baker will develop a framework for granting state licenses to companies that use mobile technology to link private drivers to people seeking a ride. Until then, ride-hailing services can continue operating as they currently do in the state.

In January, regulations took effect that require ride-hailing businesses to be licensed by the state.

Baker, in a news release on Wednesday, struck a balanced tone, welcoming innovation to fuel the state's economy while noting the need for safety.

"Emerging transportation options such as Uber and Lyft present a real opportunity for our evolving transportation ecosystem to more efficiently serve residents and visitors to Massachusetts alike," Baker said. " We also have a responsibility to step up to ensure consumer choice and public safety prevail, and that Massachusetts continues to develop as a global destination for business and tourism."

Conditions for obtaining a license will include driver background checks, vehicle safety inspections, and adequate auto insurance, Baker said. Lyft and Uber already conduct driver background checks and existing Massachusetts laws govern vehicle safety and insurance requirements. Administration officials didn't immediately respond to questions on how these new license requirements would differ.

Lyft has been talking to legislators across the U.S. about ride-hailing regulations and supports Baker's efforts, said a company spokeswoman. However, it is a new business model, and regulations should reflect that, she said.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh will be among the local officials that work with Baker on the regulations. Boston has been working on a policy regarding ride-summoning services and will share its research with the governor, Walsh said in the news release.

Uber recently agreed to provide Boston with anonymized data on how people use the ride-hailing service to get around the city. However, Uber has gone to great lengths to keep this information from the public, including offering to pay Boston's legal bills if the city is sued for the data. It's unclear whether any of this data will be shared with Baker.

Massachusetts joins other city, state and national governments that are looking into regulating ride-summoning services. This week South Korean government officials rejected a proposal from Uber that would require its drivers to get commercial licenses. In the U.S., California, Colorado and Illinois are some of the states that have passed legislation in this area. Cities including Dallas and Seattle have enacted legislation requiring Uber and Lyft drivers to have a certain level of auto insurance.

Fred O'Connor writes about IT careers and health IT for The IDG News Service. Follow Fred on Twitter at @fredjoconnor. Fred's e-mail address is fred_o'connor@idg.com

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