Lit Drop | Councillors team up in bid to rescue city’s taxi industry

Ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft have settled into cities after burning through investor cash to subsidize customer rides at low prices and skirting local laws to establish their dominance. The convenience of hailing a vehicle with the swipe of a finger, rather than a wave in the street, has helped give Uber and Lyft the upper hand as the incumbent taxi industry, made up of small-business owners, has continued to struggle.

The issue has united two city councillors who have typically been at odds on other topics, Dorchester’s Frank Baker and Jamaica Plain’s Kendra Lara. The two are cosponsors of a hearing order, rolled out at last week’s City Council meeting, with the recovery and revitalization of the taxi industry as its goal.

Lara said the hearing is meant to “get the ball rolling on having conversations” about the future. Roughly 677 individuals own one to four “medallions,” which are essentially operation permits overseen by a division within the Boston Police Department. Many of them come from immigrant families.

But as Uber and Lyft have continued to corner the market, according to Lara, the taxi industry has seen a lack of support, with 825 cab drivers “at an economic disadvantage and tied them to an investment that is likely to continue to lose strength.”

Baker wants to offer regulatory relief to the drivers. “We can do our part to save this industry,” Baker said.

“The city of Boston allowed the taxi industry to get crushed,” he added. “We’re still dealing with Uber and Lyft and figuring out how we build our city around their business model.”

Before Uber and Lyft, a medallion could cost between $400,000 and $600,000 according to Baker. Now the city has thousands of medallions up for grabs, and one can be had for $35,000, meaning medallion owners have lost equity that they worked hard for.

City Council President Ed Flynn and City Councillor At-Large Michael Flaherty both signed on in support and suggested pulling in unions as part of the eventual solution. Flaherty, a former Teamster, said Local 25 should be part of the discussions.

Councillor Kenzie Bok, who represents Back Bay and Fenway, agreed that the city “betrayed” the taxi drivers. “We said this was a regulated space you had to pay to enter and then we said, ‘never mind,’” she said.

She noted that some medallion owners exploited their drivers, but most are small business owners. “I don’t think we should give up on reforming this space.”

The hearing order was sent to the Council’s planning, development and transportation committee, which is chaired by Baker. A hearing date has not yet been scheduled.

Mattapan woman is Pressley’s guest at State of the Union
Jaqueline Sanches, a Mattapan resident and early educator, was Rep. Ayanna Pressley’s guest at President Biden’s “State of the Union” address. Lawmakers often invite guests to the “State of the Union” to make a political or policy point.

In the case of Sanches, Pressley sought to highlight needed investments in early education and care, through Head Start, paid leave, and higher wages for early educators. “Policies like these will allow folks like Jaqueline—an immigrant mother who has dedicated her life to caring for and educating our youngest children—to thrive,” Pressley said in a statement Monday.

A Cape Verde native, Sanches is an Early Head Start teacher and has worked for nine years at the Dimock Center in Roxbury.

Lynch, Pressley reappointed to Financial Services Committee
Stephen Lynch and Ayanna Pressley, who both represent Boston in Congress, are back on the House Financial Services Committee after the switch to Republican rule.

The results of the November election put the GOP at the top of House committees, with Democrats back in the minority. The top Republican is Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, while Maxine Waters of California is the ranking Democrat.

Lynch (D-South Boston) recently announced that he’ll be the lead Democrat on a subcommittee focused on digital assets and financial technology, including the oversight of cryptocurrencies. Lynch said he aims to “ensure that continued developments in digital currencies, online payments, mobile investment applications, and other merging financial technologies are guided by a regulatory framework that maximizes consumer protection while continuing to spur innovation.”

The subcommittee also plans to focus on promoting greater diversity and inclusion in the financial technology sector, as women entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs still receive less than two percent of venture capital funding, according to Lynch.

Pressley (D-Hyde Park) is serving on the housing and insurance subcommittee and the financial institutions and monetary policy subcommittee.

She previously served as vice chair of the consumer protection and financial institutions subcommittee, focusing on predatory lending and reforming consumer credit reporting.

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