Baker to let ride-hailing services like Uber, Lyft to keep operating as new rules are drafted

Gov. Charlie Baker said Wednesday that the state will let ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft keep operating in Massachusetts while the administration works to draft new rules to ensure the safety of drivers and riders.

Baker told the state Department of Public Utilities to issue a public notice clarifying the status of the so-called transportation network companies.

Baker said issuing the notice allows Uber and Lyft drivers to continue working while the administration develops a new regulatory framework for the industry. Those regulations must be developed through legislation.

Baker said Massachusetts must continue to embrace technology and innovation.

"Emerging transportation options such as Uber and Lyft present a real opportunity for our evolving transportation ecosystem to more efficiently serve residents and visitors to Massachusetts alike," Baker said in a written statement. "We also have a responsibility to step up to ensure consumer choice and public safety prevail."

In December, an Uber driver was arrested and charged with kidnapping and sexually assaulting a passenger he picked up in Boston.

Ride-hailing services let people use smartphone apps to book and pay for a private car service.

The ride-sharing companies have angered traditional taxi companies and drivers. They say the companies have operating illegally for years at the expense of their highly-regulated industry.

Registry of Motor Vehicle regulations that took effective last month require the ride-hailing companies to be licensed by the state. The regulations also permit the drivers to continue using private vehicles to transport paying passengers while the new regulations are developed.

Baker said he's working with local officials, including Boston Mayor Martin Walsh and Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone.

Walsh said the city's Taxi Advisory Committee has also been developing a new city policy on transportation services like Uber and Lyft. He said he'll share that research and experience with Baker.

Baker said the permanent licensing structure will let the state ensure consumer choice and public safety with proper background checks of drivers, proper safety checks of ride-hailing vehicles and adequate insurance in case of an accident.

Last month, a group of Boston taxi drivers sued the city, saying officials have violated their rights by allowing online ride-hailing services to operate without following the same rules as taxis.

The lawsuit filed in federal court accused the city of destroying the value of the medallions taxis must buy to operate.