Boston Shuts Down Uber Because Massachusetts Doesn't Approve Of The GPS

from the no,-seriously dept

We’ve written plenty of stories about ridiculous (and ridiculously slow to adapt) government policies that simply don’t keep up with the times, which then hinder new, innovative and disruptive services. One company that seems to be running into such things all the time is Uber, who is taking on local state and city regulations around the country as it tries to offer its innovative (and quite useful) transportation service in various metropolitan areas. You may remember the big fight in DC about some regulations that would have hindered Uber by forcing it to charge high prices. Up in Boston, things are even more bizarre. The company has been effectively told to cease and desist from offering its service. This has happened elsewhere, due to various silly regulations regarding cab and livery services, but in Massachusetts they seem to do everything in an especially screwed up manner and this is no exception.

The reason Uber can no longer serve the Boston region: Because they were making use of this crazy newfangled technology called “GPS” to measure the distances that cars traveled for the purpose of billing users.

It seems that the Massachusetts Division of Standards, and its laws covering “weights and measures,” is so out of date that it has not been updated to recognize GPS as an appropriate “weight and measure” system for distance. As if to prove just how incredibly out of touch these folks are, in the official letter ordering Uber to stop service, they repeatedly refer to the iPhone as an “I phone.” They also refer to the Global Positioning System as the Global Positioning Services. These are the people in charge of killing off innovation. Incredible.

Basically, the state had someone sign up for Uber, take a ride in the car as a “sting” (one of the people in the car’s job title is — and I’m not joking — the “Sealer of Weights & Measures”) and then cite the driver after seeing that he (gasp!) used a GPS device on his phone to measure the distance traveled. When Uber pointed out that GPS has been around and widely used for decades, the Massachusetts Division of Standards argued that may well be… but since GPS is not for commercial purposes they can’t accept it. Seriously.

Global Positioning Services (GPS ) technology is not an issue as it is and has been widely used in non-commercial applications for a number of years. However, GPS has not been used in commercial applications for assessing transportation charges until Uber Technologies, Inc. introduced its use for this purpose. The major problem at this time is the fact that there are no established measurement standards for its current application and use in determining transportation costs similar to that of approved measurement systems for taximeters and odometers. Massachusetts law does not sanction unapproved devices for use in commercial transactions.

The idea that GPS isn’t used in commercial applications is silly. GPS has been widely used by the military for decades and has been used in commercial applications for quite some time as well. It’s beyond silly to think that because some clueless “Sealer of Weights and Measures” is still focused on last century’s technology that GPS is not a viable (or even common) technology for this purpose. This seems like a clear case of a totally out of date bureaucracy actively hindering innovation for no reason other than general luddism.

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Comments on “Boston Shuts Down Uber Because Massachusetts Doesn't Approve Of The GPS”

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John Fenderson (profile) says:

What about the freight trains?

However, GPS has not been used in commercial applications for assessing transportation charges until Uber Technologies, Inc. introduced its use for this purpose.

Actually, it is. US freight trains use GPS for all kinds of useful things, such as keeping track of where cars are and measuring the distance they travel. Although shipping companies don’t bill based on GPS measurements directly as far as I know, those measurements are absolutely used in the computation of shipping charges indirectly by at least some companies.

I know this because I once worked on such a system.

Brad Hubbard (profile) says:

Hold on a sec, this is rational

Imagine for a moment you got into a taxi and instead of the meter, he had an hour-glass with tick marks on the side and a bike odometer. Would you feel secure about what you’re being charged?

Most of the Uber drivers use iPhones, which (especially the older models) have notoriously bad GPS. If it skips off to the wrong street for a few blocks and adds 1/4 mile to my trip, and I don’t notice by staring at his screen, how would I know? Normally, I trust the cab company because that little meter is tracked, registered, sealed, and supposedly regularly audited.

Fact is you don’t get to ignore laws that were put in place to protect consumers from unscrupulous vendors for years just because you’re a trendy startup. I’ve used Uber a number of times and I’m generally pleased with their service (hell, my friend designed their driver distribution algorithm), but the fact that they rely on iPhone GPS to get an exact measure of the distance between where I was picked up and dropped off does not meet the laws in Massachusetts. They could just install meters, you know…

If Uber was selling food, should they get to ignore FDA labeling requirements? Of course not.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Re: Hold on a sec, this is rational

Actually, his argument is valid (kinda). This probably falls under the same kind of laws as gas stations. When they say they dispense a gallon, they must dispense a gallon. You wouldn’t want to go to the gas station and pay for 18 gallons of gas to fill your 12 gallon car, now would you?

Now, this does not excuse Massachusetts from not understanding GPS. Any idiot could see that GPS was going to be popular and useful. The standards should have been in place long ago.

Now, if the iPhone is that bad, then it wouldn’t meet standards and would be grounds for fines. But, since they’re too stupid to have regulations at all, arguing about accuracy is a moot point. Granted, there are ways around bad GPS by properly coded software. That could easily make the iPhone accurate again.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Hold on a sec, this is rational

My understanding, which might be flawed, is that people request Uber rather than just hop into an Uber car waiting at the curb for someone to show up.

This means everyone using Uber is aware of how they do business and that they don’t have traditional meters.

A quarter mile added to a run in SF at over 11 MPH would sock you for an additional – $1.3125
A quarter mile added to a run outside SF at over 11 MPH would add an additional – $0.875

While being wiggly sometimes, which could be improved I am sure, most people using the service would most likely not freak out. A simple we use GPS tech to bill for your travels disclosure dohickey might cover it.

Heck Uber could help themselves by offering an app that the passenger hits go on and their phone generates its billing on their phone as well. That way one could compare the bill as presented with their own data.

The problem with meters is they are supposed to be checked, they are not always checked and they can and are gamed regularly. They will want them to only be in actual taxis, and put more barriers in the way of someone trying to create a new better system to protect the legacy players.

There has to be a way to make sure the playing field is fair for consumers, and allow new things to be tried.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I’m asking Mike why he refuses to answer a simple yes or no question over an issue that he has been avoiding for years. He had some smart ass response about how I ran from the thread. It is he that is running away and refusing to answer.

Mike refuses to answer a yes or no question about what he believes. He has been asked this question for years. He always has an excuse about why he won’t answer, but never just an answer.

MrWilson says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

You continue to ignore the other responses on other articles where people point out what Mike has said in response to your question.

You also continue to egocentrically pretend that it’s important that he answer your question.

It doesn’t matter how Mike responds. By the very nature of your Glenn Beck style question, you’re using the question to imply that Mike is an immoral person. You’re a McCarthy-esque witch hunter who has already determined the guilt of the person you’re persecuting and any accusation is just for show.

I feel bad for the people in your life if you exhibit these traits elsewhere. “Tell me again, yes or no…DID YOU USE THE LAST OF THE TOILET PAPER AND NOT CHANGE OUT A NEW ROLL?!?”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Why won’t Mike answer a simple question with a simple answer? Why is he hiding his true beliefs about piracy?

Yes or no: Is the *only* reason piracy is not OK is because it ignores the wishes of content creators?

It’s a simple, straightforward question. Why won’t he answer it?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

I am not making the assumption that Mike thinks piracy is not OK. He claimed that that was what he believed. I’m merely trying to pin him down on why he believes that. He said one reason was because it ignores the wishes of content creators. I want to know if that is the only reason, or if there’s more (i.e., if he hasn’t fully answered the question).

Yes or no: Is the *only* reason piracy is not OK is because it ignores the wishes of content creators?

Why won’t he answer the question? Why does he refuse to discuss his actual beliefs about piracy? What is he hiding?

Logan2057 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Bub, is your needle stuck? This repetitive demanding for an answer from Mike, that everyone including Mike, himself, has said has been answered leads me to believe that you’re just talking to hear yourself talk. Which means you are either a complete and total, pathetic, miserable and very lonely troll who’s just dying for attention or someone who has the attention span of a gold fish. The only one who seems to think that Mike is avoiding you is Y-O-U!!. So it’s time to get your warm milk, cookies and put your jam-jams on and crawl into the mud pit of a bed under your bridge and go to sleep.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Let me guess, you love to cover your ears and sing “LA LA LA LA LA LA” every time you come here as you don’t want to hear the reason and truth coming from this site, while at the same time screaming:

It’s sad that those who oppose mike’s viewpoint always seem to resort to such childish antics.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Nope. I was given a partial answer. I am asking him if the answer was complete.

Yes or no: Is the *only* reason piracy is not OK is because it ignores the wishes of content creators?

If yes, then he has given me his complete answer. If no, then he has not.

Why won’t Mike just pop in and say yes or no? What is he hiding? Is he so ashamed of his true beliefs?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Nope. Mike said he gave me an answer. He said that piracy is not OK because it ignores the wishes of content creators. He gave no other answer. I am merely asking a follow up question to determine if his answer was complete or not.

Yes or no: Is the *only* reason piracy is not OK is because it ignores the wishes of content creators?

Why won’t he discuss his true feelings about piracy? What is he hiding? (Like we all don’t know.)

Karl (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Why can’t you answer a direct question with a direct answer?

Fucking unbelievable…

You have your answer. I’ve linked to dozens of his comments where he answered you. He answered you personally. In case you’ve deliberately forgotten, the answer is: 1. It’s unlawful, and 2. Going against the interests of artists is wrong.

He may, or may not, have other reasons for being against piracy. But even if those reasons are his only ones, it doesn’t matter. Those reasons, right there, are enough to show that Techdirt is not “pro-piracy,” and to stop calling him “Pirate Mike.”

Yet, here you are, derailing the comments in a story that has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with piracy.

I live in Boston, and I wanted to read the comments to see if anyone had anything to add about the situation. Instead, I see you’re spreading your verbal diarrhea all over the Internet.

The only thing you’ve shown is that you’re an idiot. An abusive, obsessed, childish idiot. You have succeeded in making a fool out of yourself to everyone who comes here.

In the interests of rational discourse on this site, I really hope you stop now. Somehow, I don’t believe you will. Because your only goal is to disrupt rational discourse.

That’s why you post anonymously: so you can mount a one-man smear campaign against the site, without any accountability.

You are truly pathetic.

Anonymous Coward says:

Okay, I can take a quick stab at this:

GPS isn’t legal for this purpose because it isn’t accurate enough. You are taking about 10 meter accuracy 97% of the time or something. Would you accept a scale in the meat department that was 97% accurate?

Uber needs to push to have GPS “type accepted”, until they they are subject to the same rules as everyone else.

TheOldFart (profile) says:

Hate to say it but I see their point

Anyone who has used GPS to track distance and compared it to an accurate odometer knows it does not keep accurate track of miles traveled. The errors can be significant if there are lots of changes of direction in the road. For example riding my motorcycle on Forest Service roads with lots of switchbacks and tight curves in the mountains the miles traveled can be significantly different than odometer (roughly 2 to 3 miles in a 60 mile ride. A potential for 3% to 5% error seems a bit loose to be billing people on, particularly if the company finds out that specific routes always tend to appear longer.

Still, government should only be allowed to specify the required accuracy of the measurement, not the technology used to measure. That’s the problem with the scumbags writing the laws, they aren’t trying to regulate what should be, they’re trying to dictate what must be.

The arguments about trains/airplanes/trucks don’t hold water IMO. Short distance on zig-zag routes in cities don’t compare to the 100 to 3,000 mile relatively straight-line trips typically made by trains, planes and over-the-road trucks.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Hate to say it but I see their point

Depending on where you live, your odometer is what’s incorrect. In the US, cars speedometers are inaccurate up to 10%. So when you’re traveling at say 30mph you’re actually traveling 27mph. I have tested this myself with several cars, several GPSs, those signs on the side of the road that tell you your speed, and police speed radars. While the individual cars would differ on the margin of error, all the other speed indicators agreed that the speedometer was off. And since the odometer gets it’s distance from the speedometer, the odometer is wrong as well.

Atkray (profile) says:

Re: Re: Hate to say it but I see their point

Spent way too long in automotive and Chronno is correct, it is the reason that police vehicles have certified speedometers. Motorcycle speedometers/odometers are even worse due to the variances in tire diameter especially on a knobby tire like we use on forest service roads. Having ridden in cabs that will go from the left lane to the right land and back again (apparently for no other reason than to travel diagonally down the street instead of a straight line) I would be willing to accept the potential inaccuracies of a GPS mileage calculated at the lower rates Uber charges as opposed to the “precisely” measured monopoly;y rates of the cab company.

TheOldFart (profile) says:

Re: Re: Hate to say it but I see their point

Nope, it’s rarely the odometer that’s wrong. Speedometers are usually off especially on motorcycles, but the odometers are just about spot on (unless tire sizes or wheel sizes are changed). People bitch if the odometers are off because it affects warranty coverage and resale value, but my Honda CRV is the only vehicle I’ve ever seen with a pretty accurate speedo.

One source of error is in the math/probability/accuracy. Draw a 30′ radius circle (approximate GPS accuracy) around the middle of each turn in a switchback or 90 degree corner. How much of that circle falls outside of the path traveled and how much falls inside? That corresponds to the probability that any GPS error will add rather than subtract from the actual distance traveled. Sharp switchbacks result in an 80-90% chance that it’s going to record a longer distance traveled.

Likewise the GPS doesn’t account for elevation changes. Obviously if you ride a mile up or down a steep grade, the distance between the GPS position at the beginning and end is not going to equal the actual distance traveled since the vehicle traveled at an angle.

I’ve done short (38 mile) and long (5,000+ mile) rides and the error is consistent and predictable. The straighter the road the smaller the error.

A GPS isn’t accurate enough by itself to be trusted for important distance measurements. It’s more noticeable/obvious/critical to off-road motorcycle riders with small gas tanks, limited amount of reserve fuel and the potential for being stranded in the middle of nowhere if distance measurements aren’t reasonably accurate.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Hate to say it but I see their point

30′ radius? maybe with a cheap unit, and even then, the relative accuracy will be much better. You are calculating position many times a second, and taking the best solution, when you average those out, you end up with a very accurate

Also, why do you think they wouldn’t track elevation change? You can’t solve the math problem without solving for elevation.

if you’re using distance to measure fuel usage in an off road situation, you deserve to get stuck.

Anonymous Coward says:

The military uses GPS with far better accuracy than the iPhone will give. It may not be good enough for Massachusetts’s ‘Sealer of Weights and Measures’ but I assure you it’s good enough to provide guidance to cruise missiles to find it’s target.

The main reason the iPhone doesn’t give as good if not better accuracy is that the military has gotten approval that civilian uses don’t require the accuracy they do and have gotten laws passed that will only allow civilian uses to have large errors of measurement in comparison.

As a side note Mike this particular troll is not longer amusing. Rather it’s tedious in it’s continual attack without any genuine addition to the topics. Until the ‘troll’ leaves I think this is the last time I will answer in comments as I’ve had enough of him. Instead I’m going to drop out of reading the valuable comments as it has become irritating in the extreme.

boller (profile) says:


the AC troll wouldn’t comment on one of the most insightful responses here….if people understand that GPS may be less accurate than other “analog” measuring devices, but still choose to pay for the service what is the harm? an educated decision made by a free person in a free market is what our economy is all about. government intervention in a situation such as that can add nothing helpful.

Anonymous Coward says:

There was a TV personality at ABC that talked about how government is a type of gate keeper with it’s laws and regulations that protect special interests.
Often describing how these laws and regulations only make things more expensive and often do nothing to protect people.
His name was John something, all I remember about him was a great head of hair and a mustache.
I recall that what he said seemed to make sense, what ever happened to him?

artp (profile) says:

GPS CAN be accurate enough for this application

But it doesn’t HAVE to be accurate enough for measuring cab fares.

I find it ironic that Massachusetts approves of using GPS to determine property boundaries, but not to determine how far you traveled along those boundaries. Surveyors don’t use links and chains any more. They use satellite receivers.

Now to the real question: What kind of GPS is the cab company using to measure their fares?

I wouldn’t trust a phone GPS as far as I could throw it.

I wouldn’t even always trust a retail handheld GPS, but I would trust it a lot more than a phone.

But I would trust (mostly) a commercial GPS that had a paid subscription to a DGPS service (Differential GPS). While GPS CAN get you down to within feet – accurate enough in theory for cab fares) DGPS can get you down to inches. It’s what the surveyors use and subscribe to. DGPS uses multiple GPS satellites to get a better fix on where you are. Less chance of losing signal.

My recent experience with phone GPS on a trip from Iowa to Boston showed me that phone GPS is unreliable, not there when you need it, takes you over routes that just don’t make sense, and makes some incredible jumps in reality once in a while (You think I’m WHERE??!?). On many occasions, I couldn’t get a fix on a GPS satellite on top of a mountain under clear skies for a half hour. On city streets, I could rarely get a fix because of buildings and trees.

I looked into GPS long ago for use on my farm, but found that it didn’t work especially well under any sort of cover. I have 50 acres of timber, and many wooded ravines. The solution came up a bit short. City streets have their own form of cover.

Hugh Mann (profile) says:

How many miles to your glass house?

Mr. Masnick, some might find your ignorance of the regulation of weights and measures to be just as ludicrous as you find “I phone” and “Global Positioning Services” to be.

Yes, GPS has been used for years, including in many commercial applications. However, this is the first I’ve heard of using GPS to directly bill consumers based on distance traveled as calculated by GPS.

If GPS is going to be used to charge someone money, the state has an interest in ensuring its citizens that they are billed accurately when using this GPS-based service. Just like they take steps to ensure the accuracy of gas pumps, butcher shop scales, taxi meters, etc., etc., etc. These things are all inspected on a regular basis, and “sealed”, by putting an inspection tag on them in a manner that would make evident any attempt to open the unit to tamper with its inner workings. As you may surmise, someone in charge of this process might very well be called (and, in Massachusetts, apparently IS called) a “sealer”. Perhaps a bit of an archaic term, but then even the bleeding edge iPhone uses icons evoking telephone instruments that have little to no relevance to modern wireless telephony – where is your mockery and righteous indignation about that?

Perhaps if you took the time to look a little deeper, you might find it’s not really a case of hopeless Luddites doing everything they can to ruin your hip, high-tech, app-using lifestyle. Sometimes it takes a bit of patient work on everybody’s part to deploy a good idea.


Anonymous Coward says:


“Nope. My goal is to get you to answer a question that you have been avoiding answering at all costs for years. Why won’t you just answer the simple question, Mike?”

Why the hell are you focused on this? Why won’t you answer a simple question, what does it matter? What do you stand to gain from an answer? What are you scared of? When you wake up someday and realize you are douche will you do something about it?

Anonymous Coward says:

Hold on a sec, this is rational

No it is not, the taxi has a GPS and every person on this earth with a smartphone has one too, start your GPS at the same time the taxi picks you up and you both will have to have the same route and more or less the same distance measurement.

This time you have your own odometer with you at all times, if you keep track or if there was a service that would log on that data and be a trusted party to any claims of wrong doing you be better served than by trusting the government.

You don’t need those laws anymore to protect you, because now you can do it yourself.

The government can even profit from it making a trusted service that logs on the data from the cab and the customers, it also can be used to investigate cases of abuse.

Should the FDA ignore a better way to keep track and people honest because it is not in the books?

Anonymous Coward says:


Assuming a $3 dollar per Km(0.62 miles), which is more than double the normal rate, you are talking about $3 cents of error dude.

I doubt anybody cares about that kind of rounding error, except for banks that make a living out of that and make millions just on those.

Javataur (profile) says:

Massachussets is right

Seriously, it might sound obnoxious, but here’s something interesting i found while shopping for taxi meters, they have to be Federally certified. Yes, seriously, heck, that process is so crappy that the last time i worked for a taxi company, about five or so years ago, their in car computers which used the latest technology not only didn’t have a built in meter, but they were still running WinCE. I think if they wanted to, Mass could decide its acceptable to use GPS, but like most governments, they simply default to the Feds who haven’t given it the green light.

Jack (profile) says:

Sealer of Weights & Measures aka "where's my dough"

Long Story Short, the Mr. Mighty Sealer

1. is upset as he can’t benevolently visit Apple every couple of months to make sure their produce meets his irrefutable standards whilst they humbly provide refreshments and entertainment

2. gets even more upset as he can’t put his mighty seal on the “i phone”, cause it’s a heretic consumer device, not a blessed measuring/billing apparatus

3. and last he must unleash his anger as he can’t bill hefty charges for all of the above to justify his existence

I get where they come from, and yes, their job is to make sure customers don’t get ripped off (by billing meters that is, drivers they don’t care much for) BUT: they’re overreaching which is AGAINST customer interests. That of course can be remedied once Mr. Sealer’s deity (his grace the Mayor) comes up for re-election…

Anonymous Coward says:

GPS CAN be accurate enough for this application

> DGPS uses multiple GPS satellites to get a better fix on where you are. Less chance of losing signal.

EVERY GPS receiver uses multiple GPS satellites, you need at least three (if you have precise time, four if you do not) to triangulate a fix.

DGPS does things like correcting for the ionosphere and other sources of measurement error (by comparing to a separate fixed GPS receiver).

Louis Smith says:

A great example of circular (non) logic

Let me state this differently – “it has NEVER been used before, so it is illegal for you to be the first one to do so”. ok.. “It’s never been done, so it can’t be done”… no, that doesn’t help…

oh.. I know…” You didn’t pay us enough for the privilege of modernizing us”.. yeah, that must be it.

Machin Shin (profile) says:

Hold on a sec, this is rational

Yeah, I can at least agree that there is a point to these laws regulating measurement devices. Odometers can be off and need to be regularly checked and signed off on.

I do also agree with this article though that it is stupid for them to be throwing a fit over GPS systems. It is well past time for these morons to have added whatever regulations they need for GPS systems. To just pretend that GPS is some crazy new thing shows just how far behind these fools allow laws to get.

Instead of acting like a spoiled little kid and throwing a temper tantrum all the time our government should work with companies and update regulations to accept new technology. Instead these fools want to sit back and cry about the evil “I phones” and such.

Anonymous Coward says:

Hate to say it but I see their point

Hmm, you have a point regarding GPS not detecting altitude – but then again this benefits the passenger!

However, it has just struck me that what might be happening is that the GPS records the route taken, then something like google maps is used to plot the route and therefore the exact distances and elevations should be known over the route (because this is known by the mapping application). This effectively eliminates the major inaccuracies right?

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Hold on a sec, this is rational

1. it is FAR MORE likely that you will be ‘cheated’ by the cabbie than by GPS… ‘uh, yeah, had to go this way (3 miles out of the way) ’cause of, um, traffic, yeah, that’s the ticket…’
2. you are ignoring the factoid that GPS errors will -theoretically- work both ways: you can be ‘cheated’ out of a few shekels when it reads longer than the actual mileage, but it appears JUST AS LIKELY that the GPS will read shorter than the actual distance…
3. all in all, a bullshit tempest in a teapot, NOT predicated on protecting consumers, but on protecting established businesses who don’t want to compete…
art guerrilla
aka ann archy

Anonymous Coward says:

My iphone verses their iphone

What if my iphone says the distance is less?

I have used my iphone to find a route in the city I live in and it was way off on more that one occasion.

If Uber wants to show that GPS works well for this application they should install meters as well.
The customer will have a way of verifying the iphone as being accurate (or not) and the local authorities will be happy.

Kevin (profile) says:

Uber's fault, definitely

Basically, the state had someone sign up for Uber, take a ride in the car as a “sting” (one of the people in the car’s job title is — and I’m not joking — the “Sealer of Weights & Measures”) and then cite the driver after seeing that he (*gasp*!) used a GPS device on his phone to measure the distance traveled.

See, I have no sympathy here. That driver really should have noticed something suspicious was up and acted accordingly the minute two people wearing powdered wigs entered his vehicle and asked for a ride.

djc says:

Consumer grade GPS devices are *NOT* accurate enough to be used for billing purposes. If you have a GPS in the car and drive in a city with tall buildings you may have a shock when looking at the stats – I’ve seen speeds as high as 500+mph recorded by my units.
Passing clouds and building reflections can “place” you on a different street. Remember, accuracy of 30ft means there is 95% chance that you are within 30ft of the indicated position – and 5% chance that you are not… Few missed turns and you have a different distance than the real one.

Niall (profile) says:

How many miles to your glass house?

It’s also the fact that they are so clueless to its existence, the fact that it has been used commercially before, that Mass. uses it for other government purposes, and that it can have much more accuracy than an “I phone”. If all they had said was “the I phone is an inaccurate measure of GPS” it would be fine. Right now, they may as well be saying that laser rangefinding ‘doesn’t work’.

Anonymous Coward says:

I would say overall this post surprises me Mike. Perhaps it’s a good indication of your lack of true technical understanding of things, and certainly puts you in a place where you appear to have no clue about consumer protection laws.

You make out everything as a “barrier to entry” or “protection for incumbents” yet you seem unwilling to see the greater good at every turn. Is it ignorance or willful blindness?

Makes me wonder what other areas where you are baffling us with bullshit rather than a true understanding of things.

Hugh Mann (profile) says:

How many miles to your glass house?

They didn’t say it had not been used commercially before. They said it had not been used commercially in the calculation of fees to be charged to a consumer before.

I’m quite willing to bet they know what GPS is and how it is used today. I would not be surprised at all to learn that their reps use GPS to get directions to their next inspection site.

To call them “clueless” about the “existence” of GPS is pretty silly.

I’m not aware that laser rangefinding has ever been used to calculate fees based on travel distance, either.


John Fenderson (profile) says:

Hold on a sec, this is rational

When they say they dispense a gallon, they must dispense a gallon. You wouldn’t want to go to the gas station and pay for 18 gallons of gas to fill your 12 gallon car, now would you?

No, but that’s a case of fraud. I would see nothing wrong with a gas station using meters that only estimated the amount of gas, providing that the margin of error was disclosed before the purchase and that there was no intentional attempt to cheat people.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Hold on a sec, this is rational

Yes, but this isn’t really a case of that. The weights and measures business is to ensure that what you call a pound, inch, or mile is actually a pound, inch, or mile, and that devices that purport to measure these things do so accurately.

It’s all about the representation. Despite the government’s authority to govern weights & measures, it is perfectly legal to sell scales that only estimate these things. They won’t be certified, but that’s no problem unless you fraudulently claim or imply that they are.

Jeffrey Nonken (profile) says:

Hate to say it but I see their point

“Sharp switchbacks result in an 80-90% chance that it’s going to record a longer distance traveled.”

Assuming you’re correct, how much longer?

“Likewise the GPS doesn’t account for elevation changes.”

It can, but for the sake of argument, let’s assume you’re correct. …Which in this case would be in favor of the customer. I may have only gotten a C in 9th grade geometry, but I’m pretttttty sure I remember that the hypotenuse is longer than either of the legs of a right triangle.

“A GPS isn’t accurate enough by itself to be trusted for important distance measurements.”

Define “accurate enough” and “important” in this context.

Actually.. says:

Response to: Anonymous Coward on Aug 14th, 2012 @ 4:47pm

Clinton changed that around 2000. The data being given to civilian devices is just as accurate as military now.

But roads aren’t perfect things that are easy to measure distance traveled on. You can’t just plug in start point and end point and get 100% accurate distance traveled.

Brad Hubbard (profile) says:

Hold on a sec, this is rational

1) The route is not spit out by Uber, so an Uber driver is no less able to drive out of the way than a cabbie. This is not a valid objection.

2) This is an unreasonable assertion. In my example, there’s a direct route through the city streets. Since the GPS tracker follows “miles driven” and we have no way of knowing if/how it snaps to the street grid (as many navigation systems do), if my driver was already taking the most direct route there’s no way it could charge too little.

3) Evocative imagery, but not really relevant. The law was put in place to protect consumers from shady cab companies. You can argue that you don’t LIKE the law, or that now it is being used to PROTECT cab companies from an up-and-comer, but there is a law on the books and Uber appears to be violating it. Lawyers will decide that eventually. Point is – this is a law that has existed for far longer than Uber, and is nothing like some cities inventing new laws or misconstruing old ones. Also, it would be relatively easy for Uber to comply – they could just install meters. To my knowledge Mass. does not restrict the sale, certification, or installation of cab meters, so they could quite easily put them in their vehicles.

“I don’t wanna” is not a justification for “I don’t have to”.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Hold on a sec, this is rational

1. ?que? so you are saying uber would be *better* than normal cabs ’cause it would display the most direct route ?
okay, another plus for them (according to you)
*BUT* so what it shows a route (assuming it was even visible to the passenger), is it ‘the law’ the cabbie *must* follow that route ? they can’t deviate for ANY reason (whether to ‘cheat’ the passenger or not) ?
i don’t think so…
i’m betting there is some sort of ‘law’ that regular, metered cabs must/should/shall follow the most expeditious route, blah blah blah; but does *that* keep cabbies from doing otherwise ?
i seriously doubt it…
2. um, huh ? i can’t parse whatever you are trying to say here, but i don’t think it negates my point that GPS will be ‘off’ both to the ‘good’ and to the ‘bad’…
if its ‘inaccurate’, that cuts both ways…
3. no, it is *not* besides the point that laws are PRIMARILY made to do the bidding of business, NOT protect consumers…
many -if not most- ‘consumer protection’ laws are actually ‘limiting korporate liability’ laws…
jiminy crickets, LOOK at how the world works: i don’t care WHAT politicians/leaders *SAY*, the net result is that korporations are protected, and consumers are screwed…
THAT is the way of the world in this upside-down society…
art guerrilla
aka ann archy

Brad Hubbard (profile) says:

Hold on a sec, this is rational

But we don’t have a free market. We as a society have decided that snake oil salesman and defective products and all the other things that a free market supports should be restricted.

We pass regulations that say you have to fully disclose what you are selling and what you are charging. I don’t expect that if I get into a livery service of any kind that I’ll be charged $50 +/- 5%. No one has that expectation. You publish rates that say “$X/mile and $Y/min” and you honor those rates.

I don’t personally call in and validate the medallion on my taxi, do a background check on my driver and pull the maintenance records of the vehicle I’m about to get in – I trust that the regulations that WE THE PEOPLE put in are being enforced.

mudlock (profile) says:

Hold on a sec, this is rational

But it is a case of that. The devices being used to measure distances (consumer-grade cellphones) are not certified for accuracy. If you want to argue that cabs shouldn’t have to have certified measurement tools for distance (as long as they make you aware of that fact) that’s one thing, but the current law in MA is that they do need to use certified devices.

chris johns says:

I have used Uber 100 times and...

approximately 1 of 5 had some irregularity. ranging from a couple dollars to at one point $100 over what it should have been. To their favor they quickly rectified it after a few back and forths on emails. The real point is public safety. Many countries with lax taxi regualations suffer from gypsy taxi services that have rigged meters, steal your bags or take you out to the woods, that is why limosuine registration and Taxi meter and taxicab plates exist, it is also to make sure the roads arent flooded with 1000 extra cabs and all the drivers are making less than mininum wage and more prone to crime and illegal or bad practices.

With Uber, THEY assume the role of a quasi-regulatory authority. They also engage it practices such as “surge” pricing that could be an issue, because they don’t tell you the amount you are paying until the end of the ride.

stu-boo says:

Re: I have used Uber 100 times and...

If Uber works like the pricing of traditional livery services, then they shouldn’t really care about mileage. Black cars mostly just charge by the hour. Or…they could map out each city and just charge by using a zone system. Tracking GPS miles is not actually necessary for most point to point transfers.

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