Boston’s taxi industry has seen better days.
Before transportation networking companies — better known as ride sharing businesses like Uber and Lyft — populated the hail-a-ride market, the medallions needed to operate a cab in the Hub could fetch as high as $300,000 to $600,000, city Councilor Frank Baker says.
Now, hundreds are waiting to be sold, he said. Prospective buyers can probably snag one for as low as $35,000.
“Most of the industry were immigrant drivers who took every bit of anything that they had — their credit, their cash, everything — to buy these medallions,” Baker told fellow councilors Wednesday. “Then comes along Uber and Lyft, [and] the medallions are basically worthless now.
“We’ve had people in my office, in meetings, grown men sitting, crying about what’s going on in their industry and trying to pay for their families,” he added. “It’s pretty bad.”
Now, Baker is calling on the council to look at how the local taxi industry is regulated, with the possibility of loosening laws to help get cab drivers and owners on even footing with companies like Uber and Lyft.
Unlike the city’s taxi laws, the state regulations that govern TNCs do not require ride share drivers to have a Massachusetts driver’s license, and hold those companies to different standards, according to Baker.
City regulations, meanwhile, mandate that medallion owners be affiliated with a radio association in order for trips to be monitored by dispatchers, Baker wrote in his order for a hearing. Drivers and owners must also meet sustainability requirements, and the city regulates standards such as vehicle age, registration, condition, and installed equipment, including GPS systems and partitions.
Cabs must also accept multiple forms of payment as well as coupons and vouchers.
Baker wrote that the laws regulating the taxi industry are “overly burdensome in comparison” to those surrounding TNCs, and with self-driving cars expected to hit the road in the future, ride sharing companies likely won’t be the only competition cab drivers will face.
Uber and Lyft have “basically decimated the whole industry,” he said.
“If cab owners and operators are able to receive some relief from their hackney regulations, we may be able to rebuild this business,” Baker said. “I’m not totally confident, but I think we can.”
Councilor Andrea Campbell, who’s working with Baker to address the problems, said lawmakers have met with taxi industry workers for years about this.
At the root of the issue is justice, Campbell said. It’s about righting past wrongs.
“We knew that with technology, with innovation, Uber, Lyft, that these types of companies would be coming down the pipeline,” she said. “We did nothing to sort of shift rates or to change things to allow our taxi drivers to keep up.”
Baker’s order calls on city officials to meet with representatives from both taxi and ride sharing businesses, among other parties. Campbell said taxi industry professionals have already raised “innovative ideas and solutions” to lawmakers, but she did not elaborate on them during Wednesday’s council meeting.
“During difficult times in our city, taxi drivers were always there for us … Now that our city is booming, [it] seems like there’s no place left for our cab drivers,” Councilor Ed Flynn said.
Many drivers work hard for little pay, he said.
“There should be a place in Boston for our cab drivers,” Flynn said.