While there has been much discussion about whether or not transportation network companies (TNCs) should have access to Logan International Airport, another location critical to transportation service providers, the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center (BCEC), has been an equal consideration for lawmakers. The parties involved in this debate are paying close attention to the conference committee that is currently revising the legislation.
After both chambers of the legislature failed to reach a conclusion on House bill H.6064, with the House in favor of banning TNCs from the Boston Exhibition and Convention Center, and the Senate dissenting, it is not clear which direction the revised legislation will take. A comprehensive review of the legislative history for this bill shows the many iterations that the bill has gone through—especially in regard to the Convention Center.
If this legislation prohibiting TNCs from the convention center were passed, the BCEC would become one of the few convention centers in the entire country to have such a restriction.
Although it has no lawmaking authority, the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority (MCCA)—which runs the BCEC—has publicly expressed its opposition to legislation prohibiting TNCs from the convention center. MCCA Director of Transportation James Folk said that, because many MCCA customers use TNCs to travel to and from the convention center, a future ban on TNCs from the convention center would significantly hurt business. He also stated that bans on TNCs from both the Boston and Hynes convention centers would make Boston less appealing for large industry conventions, and impact the attendance of local residents who attend events at these facilities. While most of MCCA’s customers are shuttled to the convention center via taxi, it comes as no surprise that MCCA officials want their customers to have other transportation options. An unnamed ride-sharing company estimated that it provided about 15,000 rides from convention center properties in 2015.
This debate comes as traditional taxi services have taken a major hit in the city of Boston. Some estimates indicate that from January to June 2015, taxi ridership declined by about 22 percent from its 2014 levels during the same timeframe. In 2015, trips to and from Logan Airport to the BCEC alone totaled 22.5 percent of all trips provided in Boston, an increase from 14.7 percent in 2012. Of the roughly 2.4 million rides between the two locations in 2015, 2.3 million—or nearly 96 percent of all rides—were from Logan to the convention center with only 132,000 rides going from the convention center to Logan. According to a recent Boston Herald article, while taxi trips between Logan and the BCEC have increased over the last four years, the total number of taxi trips in Boston has fallen dramatically from 14.6 million in 2012 to 10.8 million in 2015.
In essence, taxis are seeking a monopoly over two of the most important locations in Boston, with one being the BCEC. This would distort Boston’s transportation market to allow taxis to become more competitive with TNCs, but at the consumer’s expense. This raises the same question as the debate on Logan Airport: should TNCs be allowed access to the BCEC?
As many consumers have demonstrated their preference for ridesharing over the last several years, most Boston area residents that regularly use private transportation services would likely disapprove of a ban on TNCs from the BCEC. This is well illustrated by the 24 percent decrease in the number of taxi rides given in January and February 2015, when compared to the same two months in 2014, which saw the taxi companies see their revenues fall by 20 percent. The taxi lobby and medallion owners, on the other hand, are fighting to stay competitive through advocating for increased restrictions. TNCs have fought aggressively against these prohibitions.
Amidst an echo chamber filled with strong voices from both ridesharing firms and taxis, the one that should thunder the loudest in the legislators’ deliberations is the one belonging to their constituents. Massachusetts has prided itself as being a national leader in innovation and technology. A ban on TNCs accessing BCEC would be taking a major step backwards for several reasons—the most important of which is the negative impact such an initiative would have on constituents, along with local businesses like hotels and restaurants reliant on a robust transportation industry with many options. MCCA officials are reasonable to fear any such ban on the grounds that it would make Boston unappealing to industry conventions that are vital to the economic livelihood of the city. Second, Massachusetts would be fighting against a national trend that favors allowing consumer choice when it comes to their method of transportation. Like with every piece of legislation, the legislature must do an analysis of its costs and benefits to their constituents, and when it comes to the choice of allowing TNCs to access the BCEC, the benefits of allowing them access clearly outweigh the costs associated with banning them.