Nanny of the week: Cambridge wants to ban ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft

Part 9 of 9 in the series Nanny State of the Week

By Eric Boehm |

MINNEAPOLIS — Officials in Cambridge, Mass., are going to war with ride-on-demand services in an effort to protect the public from the dangers of riding in cars with strangers.

Unless, of course, those strangers are employed by a taxi company and have (here’s the important part) purchased a very expensive taxi medallion from the city government, along with all the other necessary permits and licenses.

MAKIN’ RULES: Cambridge City Hall, where this week’s nannies hang out and think up clever ways to shut down entrepreneurs driving on their streets.

The new rules being considered by the Cambridge Licensing Commission would prohibit users from requesting a ride-on-demand service from anything other than a taxi company and would set a limit of $50 as the minimum price for any non-taxi car ride, regardless of actual cost or distance.

A third rule being considered is perhaps the most absurd: it would prohibit “any technological device from being part of fare calculation during a ride.”

For those who aren’t familiar with how ride-on-demand services like Uber and Lyft work, any individual can use a smartphone app to request a ride, and the app directs the nearest available driver to your location. The app also tracks the length of the trip in distance and time, calculates the cost and automatically transfers the fee from the user’s credit card (already entered into the app at the beginning of the process) to the driver’s account.

No cash changes hands, which makes the whole operation pretty safe and secure for both the user and the driver, but it does require those darned “technological devices” that have Cambridge’s city leaders so bent out of shape.

In a blog post, Uber said the new regulations were “specifically designed” to target their business model.

“For a city known for its innovation and progressiveness, it is shocking that Cambridge would cling so blindly to the past and ban an innovation that thousands of its residents and small businesses value and use on a daily basis” read part of Uber’s statement.

But this story has a sad ending for our would-be nannies in the Boston area.

Uber took to social media — capitalizing on the fact many of its customers are young professionals — to call out the Cambridge city government and asked people to voice their opposition to the new regulations.

It seems to have worked, for now.

The Cambridge Licensing Commission postponed a planned vote on the new regulations this week and is now engaged in a dialogue with the companies it was trying to put out of business.

Taxi companies and their cronies in state and local governments can try to fight Uber and Lyft, like Virginia did by banning the services completely a few weeks ago, but the ride-on-demand product is here to stay.

And with a recent valuation claiming Uber was worth more than $17 billion, the start-ups will probably have the last laugh.

For their ongoing efforts to stifle competition and dictate how residents of their town can get around, the Cambridge Licensing Commission is our nanny of the week. Their prize is a long wait for a dirty taxi that will overcharge them for a ride — if only there were better options in the market.