Uber and Lyft … Next stop — upstate


A longtime Capital Region lawmaker says bringing Uber and Lyft to upstate New York is a “no brainer” and is urging the Senate to pass a bill that would expand ridesharing across New York.

Sen. Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, was referring to a bill (S.4159) sponsored by his colleague, James Seward, that would establish regulations for Transportation Network Companies in areas outside New York City, where the services have gained in popularity as an alternative to taxicabs.

“Bringing ridesharing to upstate New York should be a no-brainer when you consider all the positive economic benefits,” Tedisco said.

Senator James Tedisco. Gazette file photo


The bill comes as Uber and Lyft — the two best-known ridesharing companies — submitted testimony to lawmakers via the budget hearing on Transportation earlier this month urging Albany leaders to amend that state law and allow ridesharing in the 57 counties outside the Big Apple.

“This is long-awaited, comprehensive legislation that will allow Uber, Lyft and similar companies to begin operating outside of New York City,” Seward said. “Business executives, tourists, college students, and everyone in between utilize ride-sharing apps when visiting cities around the nation and the world, upstate New York riders should not be left at the curb.”

Co-sponsor Senator Rich Funke, R-Fairport, said, “Ride-sharing will mean more jobs, safer roads, and better transit options for my community and those like it across upstate. Today you can hail an Uber or Lyft in nearly every other state, and even in some developing nations, but not in upstate New York; that’s unacceptable.”

Both Lyft and Uber testified that 37 states and Washington D.C. already have comprehensive and safe ridesharing legislation. The most recent state to acquire this type of legislation was New Jersey, adopting the policy earlier this month.

The Senate passed Seward’s bill on Feb. 6, and it’s now at the Assembly for consideration. It would take effect on nineteenth day after becoming law.

The bill would allow for the statewide operation of Transportation Network Companies like Uber and Lyft, create a host of new regulations to oversee the industry statewide, establish a task force to manage any issues that may arise, and establish a local transit assistance fund. The bill has eight co-sponsors — six Republicans and two Democrats.

One new regulation would be a minimum level of required insurance for divers. Another would be rigorous criminal and safety background checks for potential drivers.

Other driver regulations include prohibition from picking up street hails or accepting cash fares, distinctive trade dress to help passengers and law enforcement identify TNC vehicles and vehicle standards regarding age and vehicle inspections “to ensure that only the most responsible drivers and safest vehicles are being used to transport passengers,” according to testimony submitted by Lyft.

The bill also gives municipalities’ and airports’ authority to regulate any issue concerning traffic and parking.

Supporters of ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft say they protect consumer choice, respond to unmet market demands, provide accessible and affordable transportation options to underserved areas, provide economic opportunities for drivers, reduce incidents of drunk driving, ease traffic congestion, curb air pollution and provide carriage solutions to commuters looking for travel options.

Co-sponsor Senator Michael Ranzenhofer, R-Amherst, said, “Thousands of upstate residents have been demanding the expansion of transportation network companies beyond New York City.”

Finally, the bill significantly cuts the taxes to be paid by ride-share customers compared to earlier proposals.

The new revenue would be invested back into state’s infrastructure improvements for roads, bridges and county transit needs.

“This safe, affordable transportation option will help to create new jobs, boost tourist spending, support local businesses and reduce drunk driving deaths,” said Ranzenhofer.

Uber Technologies, Inc. predicts that almost 9 million trips will take place through the Uber application within the first year of bringing ridesharing to upstate New York. By 2020, Uber estimates that as many as 80 million trips would be provided upstate.

Data in Uber’s testimony from Temple University Professors Brad Greenwood and Sunil Wattal indicates that Uber’s presence in the market statistically decreases the amount of alcohol-related vehicle fatalities, even within the first year.

Since Uber is an internationally used app, tourists would be able to use a familiar service to get around the state. Tourism is a major contributor to the livelihood of any region, especially considering “the lion’s share of driver-partner earnings stay local,” the company stated in written testimony to the Legislature.