Monday, August 3, 2015

Cambridge Cabbies Strike

Thank God for Uber!

"Cambridge cab drivers plan strike for Monday; Allies also angry over Uber, but don’t agree with action" by Dan Adams Globe Correspondent  August 01, 2015

A group of taxi drivers in Cambridge is planning a one-day strike Monday to pressure local officials into cracking down on Uber and other ride-hailing services.

The controversial strike is scheduled to begin at 4 a.m. Monday and last at least through the day. However, other members of the taxi industry, including leaders of the drivers’ main advocacy group, oppose the strike at this time, fearing it will backfire.

See: In Cambridge, taxi drivers are told: ‘You’re the minority’

Organizers said they will refuse to pick up fares and instead will hold a rally in the morning outside Cambridge City Hall on Massachusetts Avenue.

They also may participate in a “rolling rally” with their taxicabs, potentially snarling traffic on already congested streets in the area.

“We have to show the city officials that what they’re doing is not right,” said Rene Flerime, an independent cab driver and medallion owner in Cambridge who helped organize the action. “Uber and Lyft destroyed my business.”

Flerime and other drivers say Uber has cut deeply into their revenues.

At issue is Cambridge’s decision to not subject Uber and other ride-hailing companies to the same regulations imposed on taxi drivers, such as submitting to background checks, holding commercial insurance, and mandatory driver training.

Cambridge officials, however, suggested the strike would hold little sway for them, saying the city has no immediate plans to crack down on companies such as Uber.

After a controversial attempt to regulate ride-hailing services blew up last year, the city has said it will defer to the state Legislature, which is reviewing several bills on the industry.

“I understand how Uber has hurt their business model,” said Andrea Jackson, chairwoman of Cambridge’s licensing commission, which oversees taxis in the city. “But there are no plans I’m aware of to look at new rules. We’re waiting for the state.”

Like trying hailing a taxi, isn't it?

Uber officials declined to comment.

Cambridge has issued medallions to around 260 cabs, but it’s unclear how many drivers will participate in the strike.

The two largest advocacy groups that represent cab drivers say they oppose the strike because it could undermine their lobbying effort to get the Legislature to adopt stricter rules for the ride-hailing industry.

“We just think a work stoppage at this point would be counterproductive to the progress we’ve been making with legislators and regulators across the state,” said Steve Regan, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Regional Taxi Advocacy Group, or MRTA. “There’s always negative backlash when you inconvenience your customers. It’s really not the right thing to do.”

Regan said he and other taxi leaders repeatedly called and e-mailed members of the Cambridge group to get them to hold off, but had not received an answer as of late Friday.

Flerime rejected criticism of the strike, saying his group had put up fliers to warn customers of the disruption and that drivers’ frustration was too great to wait for legislators to act.

The larger taxi groups are not opposed to a job action, Regan said; rather, they want to give the Legislature until at least September before deciding whether to launch a much larger strike across the Boston region.

The Legislature is considering competing bills, one backed by the taxi industry that would significantly toughen regulations on Uber and similar companies, and a more Uber-friendly measure proposed by Governor Charlie Baker that would introduce more stringent background checks on drivers but largely allow the ride-hailing companies to continue operating as they are.

The debate over the Cambridge strike has caused an awkward schism in the area’s cab industry, which had been working to unify in the face of a common threat.

Many drivers are torn over the action, worried the small effort will not have a sufficient impact to justify the risk that it could alienate customers and drive more business to Uber or even to rival taxis in neighboring towns.

Regan noted that recent strikes by cabbies in Paris, Mexico City, and Raleigh, N.C., had either devolved into ugly violence or simply boosted business for ride-hailing firms.

Longtime Cambridge taxi driver Bob Karasinski said he will reluctantly participate in the strike for one day out of solidarity, but doesn’t think a job action will be effective unless drivers from other cities join in.

“The only way we can get the state to realize that we’re a dying business is if everybody gets behind you. Boston shuts down, Somerville shuts down — now you’re getting attention.”

Tibor Hangyal, who runs the Star Taxi Inc. dispatch service, would also prefer to wait until September and thinks the Cambridge strike will have a “minimal” effect. Nonetheless, he agreed to speak to the striking drivers on Monday.

”I think there’s a better time for it, but if they’re not willing to wait, I can’t leave my brothers out there alone,” Hangyal said. 

Like me standing here waiting for a ride home.


Did you see who is in their parking spot?