clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Would a cap on Uber work in Boston?

New, 3 comments

New York is poised to become the fist major U.S. city to limit the number of ride-hail vehicles on its roads

The back windshield of a car making its way through a downtown, and there’s a U sticker on the windshield. Boston Globe via Getty Images

The New York City Council could vote as soon as August 8 to limit the number of vehicles on its roads driving for ride-hailing services such as Uber. The move would make New York the first major U.S. city to impose such a limit.

Could something like this work in or for Boston?

Under New York’s proposal, Gotham would stop issuing nearly all new for-hire-vehicle licenses for a year while it studies the industry. (What it hopes to find is anyone’s guess, but New York officials have faced pressure from the conventional taxi industry to curb the Uber- and Lyft-driven competition).

In Boston, there is no such proposal pending nor much stated political support for any cap on Uber, Lyft, et al. If anything, the city is helping them along with new designated drop-off and pickup points.

But the ride-hails are certainly a sizable presence in the city. There were nearly 35 million Uber and Lyft rides in Boston proper last year, which translates into an average of 96,000 a day—or 67 Uber and Lyft rides underway in any given minute in 2017.

Not surprisingly, then, perhaps, ride-hails have been known to exacerbate Boston’s already legendary traffic congestion, despite the claims of ride-hail companies that their cars not only take drivers off the road but complement mass transit.

The reverse seems to be true: Ride-hail users utilize the cars even for short trips rather than take the bus or the train; and they utilize the cars, period, even when they don’t need them.

So would an Uber/Lyft cap work in Boston? Probably not.

The city is famously part of a patchwork of dozens of municipalities and towns that people and cars flow through every day without much of a thought to their geographic boundaries. New York City, on the other hand, is one, big governmental and geographic monolith.

Any cap would have to come from the state. In fact, any meaningful regulation of the ride-hail industry would have to originate on Beacon Hill—as in 2016, when Massachusetts became the first state to impose a surcharge on ride-hail trips.