By Jacqueline Tempera
BOSTON (Reuters) - Massachusetts officials on Tuesday unveiled a proposal to require drivers for ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft to carry at least $1 million in insurance and face what they called the strongest background check requirements in the United States.
They presented their proposal at a raucous statehouse hearing packed by drivers for the services, who generally oppose the measure, and traditional taxi drivers, who support it and claim the new services are undercutting their business.
A bill proposed by Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, would give the state's Department of Public Utilities, which already presides over school and city bus drivers, oversight over the new services, said Angela O’Connor, chairman of that department. Administrators would implement a two-tier background check, more stringent than taxi drivers currently face, that would review driving and criminal records, as well as sex offender databases.
"We should embrace new technology as we seek to solve our transportation needs," O'Connor said. "The customer should have more choices to get from here to there."
The bill is similar to measures passed in California, Colorado and Pennsylvania, where governments officials have sought increased background checks on drivers after complaints that criminals were being placed in the driver seats.
Another bill, which has the backing of the taxi industry, would require Uber and Lyft drivers to submit fingerprints for background checks, a point of controversy for Uber officials who argue that would show people that have been arrested but not convicted of crimes.
It also would prohibit ride-service drivers from operating at the Boston's Logan International Airport, require all cars used by drivers to be less than 5 years old, restrict Uber and Lyft from using "surge pricing," which increases fare prices during busy times.
Jean Larame, 64, a cab driver from Cambridge, said he supports this legislation.
"Uber is destroying my profits," he said, adding that he often needs to work 18-hour shifts to maintain his income. "I can't keep up."
Uber drivers decry the proposed regulation, saying it would hamper the growth of an innovative service. Outside the State House about 30 drivers stood holding signs that read "disruption is the hallmark of innovation."
As Uber continues to grow, the company has sparred with governments and taxi drivers around the world. In April 2014 Uber was banned by the Berlin government. Cabbies in London, Madrid, and Paris staged a large-scale protests against the company in June 2014.
(Editing by Scott Malone and Bill Trott)