October 29, 2018

State rep. eyes bikeshare regulations

An ofo bike in Worcester.

About two years after Massachusetts first regulated ride-hail companies like Uber and Lyft, a Boston lawmaker is looking to extend those requirements to also cover the two-wheeled shared transportation options now popping up in Massachusetts cities.

Rep. Michael Moran of Boston, who in 2015 sponsored one of the bills that sought to impose background check and insurance requirements on the ride-hail apps, this month filed a bill to regulate "shared micro-mobility devices" -- bicycles and scooters offered for rental by companies like Lime and Bird.

"I just find it odd that in this micro-economy we're living in, that people just think they can walk in and do stuff," Moran told the News Service. "'We're just going to throw some bikes on the street.' I guess I don't understand that having owned a business myself. There's a thing called regulations, there's a thing called insurance."

The arrival several years ago of ride-for-hire companies like Uber on Bay State streets vexed policymakers concerned about public safety and traffic impacts and frustrated taxi and livery drivers facing new competition from entities that didn't face the same regulatory hurdles.

The law Gov. Charlie Baker signed in August 2016, the product of months of debate, created a division in the Department of Public Utilities to regulate so-called "transportation network companies," established a new background check system, set insurance thresholds, and assessed a new 20 cents per-ride fee on the companies.

The bill Moran, a Brighton Democrat, filed on Oct. 18 would add bike- and scooter-sharing services to the law, subjecting them to the same fees, regulations and oversight by the Transportation Network Company Division.

The major players in the emerging industry, Bird and Lime, operate on models where there are not specific docks or stations to pick up bikes or scooters, and users instead can track locations on an app if they want to pick one up for a ride. Moran said his bill would also require commercial insurance for people tasked with picking up the devices for charging, deliveries or other purposes.

Municipalities would also be able to impose their own regulations and additional fees, like they can with the car-centric companies, Moran said.

According to their websites, Bird does not currently offer its scooters in Massachusetts, and Lime has a presence in 16 eastern Massachusetts municipalities: Arlington, Bedford, Belmont, Chelsea, Everett, Malden, Medford, Melrose, Milton, Needham, Newton, Quincy, Revere, Waltham, Watertown and Winthrop.

Moran said he has yet to see the shared bikes or scooters in his district, and wanted to start a discussion about regulations before they arrive. His research, he said, has shown him that the companies are looking for densely populated areas with transportation needs and a younger population.

"That's Boston, so it's only a matter of time," he said. "I think they can be successful. I want to be very clear, I support expanding all sorts of transportation, whether it be commuter rail, expanding bus service. I in no means want to stop them from operating. I want to move the process quicker for them so we can get them up and running, but look, they're a company just like any other company, and we have to make sure we have the right thing in place."

Moran said he believes regulating shared bikes and scooters can be an easier endeavor than standing up the initial framework for Uber and Lyft, in part because the government infrastructure is already in place. It's nonetheless a conversation he expects to stretch on past the end of this legislative session in January.

"What I learned in the Uber process is every time you turn the corner, there was another issue," he said. "You think, 'We'll just do X, Y, Z,' and you don't really think about all the things that happen when you try to put a new type of transportation into the transportation system."


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