City makes vague sounds about meeting with car service state wants to run out of town

The Boston Business Journal reports City Hall is talking about meeting with Uber at some point, now that state officials have said it's breaking state law by using GPSes instead of taxi meters.

On the one hand: The sort of start-uppy people the city wants to attract to South Boston love the idea of Uber - which lets users reserve a cab-like car online. On the other hand: Cab drivers and owners are already pissed off about everything from having to take credit cards (which Uber does) to the loss of business to gypsy limos.

Uber, meanwhile, vows to kick what it says is antiquated state-regulatory ass and not shut down following a sting operation in Cambridge (Cambridge? Yes, Cambridge) that led to the state harrumphing.

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Go Uber!

After waiting over 30mins for a Metro Cab only to be told they had "no idea" when it would actually come, Uber was there in 4mins in a stretch town car. I already have a receipt in my email with the detailed route we took and the total time of the trip. A well-run, customer-friendly business. Go Uber!

Message to cab owners

fuck off.

You already have a quasi-monopoly in this city. You want to stay relevant, then innovate.

Cab service in this city is by far the worst I've ever used, and one of the most priciest. Residents have had enough.

They're not

They run on the operators insisting on paying "whatever you think is enough" when the ride starts and then guilt tourists into paying a bunch more when they reach their destination.

Rates for Pedicabs

The Boston Pedicabs are using a pay-as-you-please business model where by the customer tips the driver what they feel the ride was worth. Comments over on Yelp suggest that there is an expectation from the drivers that the tip is more than the cab fare would be for the trip. And many people feel good about the higher rate since it is green and gives them a scenic ride about the streets of the city.

I've had cab drivers drive up

I've had cab drivers drive up next to me when I was riding a Hubway bike, and complain that Hubway was stealing their business. For some reason, cabbies think that they should have a protected monopoly on any kind of on-demand transportation in the city.

Certainly bike-sharing

Certainly bike-sharing services should be allowed.

But it's not fair that Hubway gets millions of dollars in subsidies, while taxis get expensive new equipment requirements from the city. Why should Hubway's credit card readers be bought by the government, while cabbies have to pay for theirs themselves?

Not sure how you're supposed to innovate

Not sure how you're supposed to "innovate" you're legally prohibited doing so.

Look I'm all for deregulation at the local level and think they should deregulate the taxis as well. But if you don't let the cab companies use the same technology Uber gets to it's still just government picking winners and losers.

Message to Uber lovers

Prove to the state that GPS technology has progressed to the point that you can charge me by the tenth of a mile and not get it wrong due to building echoes, tunnels, tree cover, poor antenna placement...

Otherwise, the state has a duty to protect consumers from unproven technology.

You wouldn't trust a pharmaceutical company that just started handing out pills one day claiming to cure what ails you without FDA approval. Why would you necessarily trust a cab company that tells you not to worry when it comes to how they're going to calculate your charges?

Let them go through the proper channels and then they can make you overpay for pretending to be rich to your hearts' content.

what?

can't tell if troll or...

It's too bad that I have to type this out, but I don't think properly measuring transportation distances for consumers poses the same public health risk as introducing new, unproven drugs to the market.

You sign up for Uber deliberately; they go through the way that you are charged (by GPS). You do not have to use this private car service if you don't want to. I had a minor discrepancy with someone getting in the wrong car. With one email I was refunded and they threw me a credit for good measure. If a cab overbilled me for some reason, you can bet it would take weeks of fighting to even talk to someone about a charge.

There isn't any scrutiny when it comes to other private car services and how they charge patrons; I'm not sure why it's so relevant now.

Who says...

cab meters are accurate? They don't give you a receipt with your route ON A MAP (and that you can dispute!) -- but Uber does.

Cab companies can't even tell you which cab you took if you, say, lost a personal item in the cab or wanted to dispute a fare. Uber gives you the name of your driver and the license plate number.

Also, you're comparing prescription medications to a car ride. Um. Yeah.

The state says, that's the whole point...

Current cab meters are certified by a public agency as being accurate based on the odometer being setup correctly and feeding the meter box correctly. How does the state certify that Uber's GPS is accurate? They can't just throw it on a treadmill and test it...and that's the whole point. The state isn't setup to validate their meter system and so it has to be proven that the Uber method of mileage is the equivalent of an odometer system or there's absolutely no certainty for consumers or the state.

Is it the city or state's fault for not having the regulatory framework setup in premonition that someone would start a cab company using GPS meters? Hardly...but that doesn't mean you get to just start driving around using GPS meters and charging people money as a cab either.

This isn't 'nam. There are rules, Donny.

Kaz, I'm assuming you're a cabbie.

Because your reasoning is stilted and thin. I feel much more comfortable with Uber's GPS technology then I do with any random cab company's meters. And really, I'd be willing to pay more to Uber for their level of excellent service then I would for a cab company's level of crappy service. I wouldn't even worry about any charge on a 1/10 of a mile scale.

Nope

Not a cabbie.

And my reasoning is rooted in the kind of consumer protection we all take advantage of every day and probably hardly ever realize it...which is why people can get all bent out of shape like this over Uber getting rightly smacked down by the state.

Then Kaz, I feel really sorry for you.

There is a big difference between consumer protection and nanny state bull shit. Your politics are old. Your ideas are old. And you're probably old. We don't need protection from an obviously good idea that will challenge the status quo. As a libertarian leaning independent, you make me fucking nuts.

Not my problem

I'm not old either. You're 0-for-2 in assuming things. Probably best if we leave in some of those consumer protections to your benefit since you'd probably end up assuming things are more honest and safe than they really are.

You are the one claiming some overreach in regulating taxi metering. It's thus up to you to provide where you think the line between consumer protection and "nanny state bull shit" is. You don't think we need to interfere to make sure Uber is above the board...do you think we need to do the same with odometer metered cabs? What if I wanted to start the Psychic Cab company which read your aura during the ride and charged you based on the outcome it determined from the psychic energies you were putting out? Sure, why not, right? What if I started a company just like Uber, but simply had the computer lie about how frequently we were above 11 mph where I charge the "driving" rate instead of the "idle" rate? Are you going to time it and stare down the speedometer every ride hoping to determine if my meters are accurate? What if I threw a switch to cheat my passengers only when I could see they weren't paying attention?

Where are you going to draw that line?

Who's problem then?

The state seems to be saying that what they're doing is metering, but the state has no way of standardizing this type of metering, so they can't operate?

Where's the logic in that?

Uber Boston has been issued a cease and desist from the Division of Standards of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In essence, the Division of Standards is claiming that until the National Institute of Standards and Technology has guidelines in place for GPS location technology, we cannot provide our application to the public. As we did extensive legal research prior to entering the city of Boston, it is our strong belief that the technology and service we offer does not violate existing law and regulations.

Anyways, a great read: http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technocra...

Under current law, this is true

However, look at something like Zipcar. Under prior law, it is considered a "car rental company". The legislation that created the Convention Center Fee attaching $10/rental to any car rental company's fees summarily attached to Zipcar and they were told to charge $10/rental instance. Of course, this was absurd since you could end up with hundreds of dollars in Convention Center Fees per user in a month that way. The State quickly corrected the rule so that Zipcar (which argued they shouldn't pay that fee at all since they are "car sharing" not "car renting") had to only charge the $10 fee once per year to its users who rent from Zipcar locations inside Boston.

That's all that is going to have to be accomplished here. Uber will get some sort of ruling or law change to exempt them from "metering" but they may have to modify their rates or something to compensate (like single rate charging so that they only charge per distance and not per speed which is much harder to validate without more certification/oversight). But that's just my guess.

Fare(!) enough

BTW I love how the asshole city officials in Cambridge set up a sting operation, instead of trying to work with Uber with their concerns.

That one smells a little funky if you ask me. I wonder what sort of connection the officer and administrator has with the local cab company...

Don't like the prescription meds comparison? Fine...

I've got a million of them.

Ever bought lunchmeat at the butcher/deli? Who says that what you're paying for is the correct weight? Ever see the seal on the side of the scale that certifies someone checked it out and proved it was accurate? If it wasn't, the butcher could charge you whatever he wanted by pretending he put the right amount of meat on the scale for what you asked for. Now, some new deli shows up and says that it can measure the weight with a spectroscopy technique that let's them determine the weight through chemical composition of the baloney, so they just cut you off a hunk and can guarantee you it's the right weight. I mean, hey, it's new technology! Let's just take them at their word and go with it since the state has no way to calibrate their technique, right?

Seen the same seal on gas pumps? I'm sure that new gas company that charges you by how long the pump is open will just be allowed to sell gas because everyone knows the pump always gives exactly the same amount of gas over time every time you pump it. No need to check the volume of its output.

And yet...both the new deli, new gas station, and Uber can all open up...IF they go through the right channels to prove and enable certification for their meters. But just because the technology is new doesn't make it accurate or inherently better for consumers and it doesn't mean you get to open outside of the law just because you don't think the laws should apply to you that we've established as protection for ourselves.

It's GPS

If you are really worried about it, you can map it yourself after you get to your destination. Uber provides you a turn by turn description of the route you took. I just did it on google maps and it was gave me .90 miles vs. uber's .89 miles. Considering Uber "rounds down" on every fare and my fare was $18.93 (so was charged $18), I'm quite happy with that...and yes, while the state must "protect" the consumer. If the consumer knows going in that this fare will be GPS generated and may be slightly different than what an odometer would generate, they should be allowed to make that choice.

Kaz, there is nothing but

Kaz, there is nothing but transparency when it comes to their GPS system. If you have ever taken an Uber ride you would see that upon completion they send you a receipt with a map of the exact route you took, how long it took, and what your average speed was.

If you see anything that looks incorrect you have all the evidence you need to contact Uber, but that all seems beside the point when it comes down to the fact that everyone knows Uber as a more expensive alternative to cabs (albeit worth it).

So if you are someone that is that concerned with the exact mileage/price for your ride, then stick to cabs and save Uber for those that don't really care if it is $21 instead of $20.

Hey, we got weed possession down to a ticket...

But seriously, the problem is misplaced anger. The problem shouldn't be that the state upheld the law that Uber was violating. The problem should be that the state needs to put Uber on hold long enough to cater to their technology and create new guidelines that allow them to operate (which it appears they're in the process of starting).

My problem is that all of this would have never been an issue if Uber worked with the necessary parties to get this cleared up while they were developing their model and attempting to implement it here...but now, by just bull charging ahead anyways, they've created a demand for their service and then said "See! The State is in your way, not us!"...even though it's them that chose to operate outside of the legal framework that's already established.

I think their model is a good one and they offer a lot for their customer that normal cabs don't. I just don't like how they went about it. I also think the fallout is misdirected because people just *want* without thinking about the implications of what they demand.

So the commentator's angers

So the commentator's angers is misplaced. So where should the anger be again? So you saying the anger should actually be at Uber for not looking at every little rule?

Unless their plan after they consulted their lawyer is to go ahead and hope the goodwill of the people will carry them pass the state (I doubt that, I suspect it is more of a legal gray area that they are not willing to wait years to clear it out if it ever would if they waited first; look how much progress have been done with cable in Boston, imagine if RCN and Verizon FIOS could plow ahead would generate how much more discussion. I'm not saying they should do that, but speculating on the likely results).

I think the anger is just fine as it is towards the state. Perhaps it should be more concentrated towards our regulation rather than the state as a while, but it is close enough.

I have to take a libertarian view and argument here. Why is the state involved anyways? I'm not a pure libertarian where there should be zero regulation, but the results have to justify the existence.

That means regulation on taxis should result in better service rather than the state seemingly about to quash Uber to the benefit of the taxi companies with continence of high fares and questionable service.

That means we shouldn't see stories like the sandwhich shop at Harvard being shut down on regulation to protect customers when after serving for decades there seems to be no harm to the customers.

On larger issues, we should see regulators regulate Wall Street rather than give them a ton of money - but you get my point.

This is not one of those moments I can say I am pleased by the state actions which is claim to be in the name of protecting us.

Every little rule?

What is a cab if not a meter in a car? They didn't have a valid meter by the law. It's a pretty big rule they were ignoring.

The result that justifies the regulation is the fact that you can be so blind to how a cab might want to cheat you. The fact that you think everything is on the up-and-up by default suggests that you've never had to deal with a company trying to screw you by defrauding you. Laissez-faire is a great way to run the marketplace...until all the companies start realizing that they won't be able to keep up unless they clandestinely cheat customers too.

Example of regulations benefiting you: Kupel's Bagels runs a good bakery. Much beloved, lots of business. People assume it maintains its standards. Product always seems good and price is reasonable. Then you find out that the dough has been coated with mouse droppings in the fridge and the problem has existed for an unknown length of time. By your system of zero regulation, you don't find that out and out-of-sight/out-of-mind you keep eating mouse-infested bagels. But we have regulations and inspecting based on those regulations found the problem and corrected it.

If cabs can provide me with details of my trip

like distance traveled, trip time, base rate, and any additional charges applied, I wouldn't give a shit if it had a meter or not.

With regards to your ridiculous "protection" examples. The bakery w/rats, the prescription drugs, you're talking about public safety. The only one that is somewhat similar to Uber would be the deli selling meats on a scale that wasn't certified. In that case, if I really liked the deli, they served a far superior product to the deli down the street who has a regulated meter, and the customer service was head and shoulders above, I again wouldn't give a shit if I was slightly overpaying for the product. In this example, if I was really worried, I could just take my meat home and measure it myself...just like with Uber.

Kaz, This is really too much.

Kaz,

This is really too much. If they're incorrectly charging consumers, then consumers can take their business elsewhere. There are plenty of avenues of consumer protection already for false advertising, improper pricing, etc. that can be invoked if they are overcharging the customers.

I'm all for having the government regulate auto, health, and consumer product safety, but inaccurate GPS's in town cars isn't one of them.

Regulated how?

GPS is a time signal sent from federally owned satellites surrounding the planet. All you need to do to make a GPS unit is the appropriate antenna and some fancy triangulation and prior expectation of where the satellites will be in relation to each other. Boom, GPS unit. I don't know of any "federal regulation" that goes into making the receivers. The only "federal regulation" would be in making sure the satellites are in place and sending the time signals correctly.

Sure, if they know

Look at my example of the bakery whose kitchen had become infested with rodents. Do you inspect the fridges of every restaurant you go to eat in? Do you know what to look for when inspecting signs of pest infestations even if you did check them all? Do you start your stopwatch every time the cab pauses at a light to capture the idling rate? Do you remember every turn you made to verify the GPS track printed out matches the actual route you took and not just one that justifies the charges?

Sorry, Kaz, you're way off on this one

As someone who has been a cabbie and a professional chauffeur for almost 30 years, this is nothing more than the cab owners and certain (ahem, Dav-El) limo owners getting their panties in a bunch.

When a person gets in my black car they are being charged either a flat rate or by the hour. The customer knows that up front and agrees to it.

This entire "GPS could be off" argument is ridiculous. I let my clients know how much they're paying when they get in my car, as does Uber. I have enough clients to not have to sign up for Uber, but I know plenty of guys who have and while they aren't overjoyed with the fee structure, it helps them bring in revenue during the slow times. If the fee structure depended on taxi metering, then I'd have a taxi meter in my car.

In my professional opinion, Uber is a winner for both sides of the issue. The clients are getting clean cars and good drivers and the drivers are making money when times are lean for the reservation only high end service.

Any griping being done is by livery owners flexing their political muscle.

Read up more

Uber uses a driving vs. idle dual rate system just like regular cabs. Therefore, it'd be impossible for Uber to "let clients know how much they're paying when they get in the car, as does Uber". Uber isn't a set rate except to have a minimum rate for airport rides and a drop-dead minimum per use. Using Uber like a cab charges like a cab where not only mileage but speed matters too.

In that case

Maybe the state should regulate and calibrate all consumer GPS's so that no one has to worry about taking a wrong turn and ending up on the T tracks?

But seriously, this is nothing but prolonging a state sanctioned monopoly and maintaining the value of the taxi medallions. The reason cabs suck so bad is there is no competition. There are some areas where we need some heavy handed regulation by the government. Getting a ride to the airport is not one of them.

With regard to trusting their GPS, you can double check it with google maps to make sure they charged you correctly. How can you do that with a cab meter that's essentially a black box to the consumer? You can't so you have to rely on the city. Again, this is better for consumers as it gets the city out of the game, creates competition where there was none so the former monopoly will have to step up their game and it gives the customer the ability to confirm the fare was the correct. There is nothing here to be concerned about unless you just wish the government was involved in everything.

I didn't even know about Uber until the article, but they will get my business next time I need a ride if the

Black box of Uber

The black box of Uber has the same problem. Their "idle" rate is set for when the car is "under 11 mph". Unless you're riding along with 2 stopwatches and staring at the car's speedometer, you might be able to use Google Maps and the receipt to check the distance, but nothing about the map is going to verify how long you should be charged at the two different rates.

Dude, you are being dense

If only there was a ubiquitous consumer gadget that could make calculations using GPS and a clock to determine speed. What's that you say? A FUCKING IPHONE DOES THAT?!?!?! OMG!!!!!

The app you download from uber calculates the cost of the trip in tandem with the iphone the driver is using. Any geek worth a damn could create an identical app to check the math and make sure they are on the up & up. There is no need for the state do that. You are trying to tell us that San Francisco of all places is OK with these guys but Boston is the one really looking out for the little guy? Please. You're making yourself look foolish here.

Civilian and military GPS aren't entirely the same

Military GPS receivers can decode P(Y)-codes transmitted from the satellites for increased accuracy. In the near future, there will also be M-codes too. Little is publicly known as to what extra bits of info are in the M-code, but the result is even greater accuracy and signal strength than civilian's access.

Try it yourself sometime. Walk around downtown, particularly around Copley and other tall structures, try taking the tunnel to East Boston with your GPS unit. You'll notice that your satellite locks drop in and out killing and regaining your accuracy. You'll also occasionally see instances where you "ghost" a few blocks over because of a signal echoing off of the building and the receiver can't tell the difference between an echo and the actual signal (this happens less if you have a WAAS-enabled reciever that constantly averages the numbers it gets to prevent jumping around as much).

As an aside, the reason Uber is even possible as a business model is that originally, the military only had access to the civilian level of accuracy. So, to keep enemy states from using civilian GPS geolocation antennas against us, we had the satellites put dummy signals out that would be weeded out by the military (through the use of a land signal that only they could pick up) but not civilian units. That was called "selective availability" and that system was switched off in 2000 by Clinton so that everyone could have accurate readings...and the military moved to adding the P(Y) encoded signals that improve their accuracy above civilian non-SA access. But before it was turned off permanently, the military couldn't get enough military grade units and had to rely on purchasing civilian units for troops. The inaccuracies from SA were so bad, that the Pentagon actually turned off SA during the Gulf War just so the military could use civilian units too. So, it was the government turning off SA permanently (big benefits to the FAA and other agencies by having a universal geolocation system) that even gave them the ability to run this company.

Join'em, don't fight'em, cabbies.

With a system like Uber, here's what you get that you're bound to like:

You know who the passenger is before he's in your cab, and you know his credit card info too. No more fare skipping. You can blacklist asshole passengers, or better yet, make them agree to pay a premium.

Are you really going to fight against this?

Slash that red tape

If Boston and Massachusetts, as a whole, are serious about supporting innovation there needs to be a major shake-up. Innovation thrives in flexible environments that can react quickly.

Could the City Council quickly pass an ordinance that would allow Uber to keep operating while all of the kinks are worked out? What about requiring Uber drivers to advertise that they are using GPS, which may be off slightly? Or requiring them to charge by a unit that can be accurately measured? Unfortunately, that will probably not happen.

Who's a rightwinger?

I'm progressive and I'm tired of shit like this, just as much as I'm tired of government collusion with large corporations.

Capitalism is competition and small business and inefficiency. We need more of it, and less circle jerking between big corp and big gov.

Gov need to do it's job and keep the playing field level.

In this instance that means innovating and allowing uber to try something new, and it also means they need to start relaxing the operation limitations artificially opposed on taxi licensing, which has become so poor that people hate using it (if they can even hail a cab).

Safety and measurement is one thing, but what is the rational that hold up behind the medallion system? Can anyone say with a straight face it has improved service, or made cab safer?

All it has done is concentrate ownership and drive quality of service down in a market where customer have no choice. 9/10 you jump into a cab with some guy who's on a phone to his wife in Jamaica the whole time only stopping to ask you questions on how to get to your destination. Then they tell you you can't use the card reader. That's not a cab service, it's extortion.

Loved Uber when we were in San Francisco

We have family in San Fran who use it all the time. The last time we were there visiting we used it several times to get around. It's an awesome service, you register a credit card when you sign up for an account so the billing is less like cab fare and more like a pay per use ZipCar situation. This also allows for more options and flexibility - you could use Uber without having your wallet on you, or a parent in another state could set up an account for their college student.

When you need to go somewhere, instead of hailing a cab or calling dispatch, you log into your account and request a car and one shows up - usually in far less time than it takes for a cab to come. They drive you to your destination in a tinely, efficient way and your credit card is charged for the trip. Maybe it's due to being in San Fran rather than Boston, but the driver also didn't yell, swear, drive like a jacka** or talk on his phone the whole ride.

So:
1. Convenience of requesting a car online
2. Easier method of payment
3. Better response time
4. Better, more comfortable cars - with SUV and town car options
5. Pleasant driver

Using Uber felt more like using a short order livery service rather than a metered cab. Maybe Uber needs to reframe their argument so the state can look at them from a different angle.

Everyone should be subject to the same rules

I think there's a simple fix to this problem. Just axe the regulation that says you can't use GPS systems to determine mileage. That way if the cab companies so choose they can implement the same system. You shouldn't give special permission to Uber to operate under different regulations than everyone else. You also shouldn't oust Uber to protect the cab industry. Treat them the same.

One issue no one has mentioned.

But is always in the back of the mind of city governments when it comes to hackney issues, and that is the value of the medallion itself. That medallion is property which holds a value, and if the value of that property is devalued by another government regulation, the owners might be legally entitled to something.

Correct me if I'm wrong

But the city doesn't sell medallions or liquor licenses, they just provide a broker/custodian service when licenses are transferred, or the terms of holding one are not met and they're confiscated.

The market value of licenses are strictly a private affair between owners, right? I'd say they'd have a hard time claiming monetary entitlement for something that shouldn't be allowed to take on a monetary value in the first place. The whole swapping and paying/buying licenses seems to be a old, obtuse way of doing things and ensuring patronage; and not the way it was "supposed to work".

Correct but...

These licenses keep their value because the government is able to set the limit on the licenses. If the government all of a sudden says anyone can get a license as long as they play by the same rules, it is unfair to those who paid money for something that is now worthless.

This case gets around that because the vehicles aren't "taxis" per state law. But in general these livery/taxi laws aren't written that well in terms of details.

Time to update them for the 21st centruy,

I agree. Taxi's were feared in their hayday, because of auto congestion issues. But I think we can all agree that limiting them in the rise of suburbia hasn't reduced city traffic congestion one bit. The whole argument to limit them in the first place is now defunct.

Anyways, for the matter at hand, there's no recourse for private owners should the government issue more licenses or get rid of them. Just because the government issues something, doesn't mean they also insure it's secondary market value. We can buy and sell monopoly money all day for real currency, but at the end of the day it's still monopoly money. Medallions and licenses have no monetary value, and I'm guessing the law states so too.

Just because official looked the other way with transfers upon payment doesn't mean they're worth the paper they're printed on. In fact, the government shouldn't be allowing it in the first place.

Hell, I've been trying to look up information about Boston and Cambridge medallions and have run into a wall. Not surprisingly it's information hat the medallion holder and city officials don't want disseminated it seems.

"Medallions and licenses have

"Medallions and licenses have no monetary value, and I'm guessing the law states so too."

Cite?

The sale and mortgaging of medallions is very out-in-the-open. I'd be surprised if the law says they have no value and can't be sold.

Maybe we *shouldn't* have this system. But we do, and it would be very hard to change it.