The New York State Senate approved legislation Monday in the first step to allow ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft to operate in Upstate New York.
The bill still needs to be approved in the state assembly before it goes to Governor Cuomo’s desk to be signed, yet the senate’s approval indicates a movement to enable ride-sharing upstate is gaining steam.
Taxi services and officials around the area have mixed feelings about the news.
“It’s going to hurt us,” Vets One Taxi office manager Jill Willow said. “Something like that could actually put us out of business. We have so many expenses, so many regulations we have to comply with, and apparently they don’t.”
Willow said Vets One has to pay expenses such as insurance and workers comp, whereas Uber does not, she said.
On the other hand, John Kader, president of Total Transportation of Elmira and Ithaca Dispatch, offered a different take.
“I don’t think it’ll affect our operation in Ithaca very much, and it certainly will have very little impact in Elmira, and there are multiple reasons for this,” he said.
“The customer base for Uber doesn’t exist in Elmira and neither does the pool of drivers they recruit, so I don’t think it’ll have much impact,” he added. “Uber just doesn’t seem to have much of an impact in these smaller cities and rural areas, so I’m not overly concerned.”
“I know a lot of taxi companies are very concerned, but I’m not,” he said. “I’m more concerned about our Ithaca operation with 25,000 students in the city.”
Kader said he operates 46 cabs in Elmira and 28 in Ithaca. He said that, like Uber, Ithaca Dispatch has its own app and his business has invested in a quick dispatch service.
He said he’s doubtful that the legislation recently passed by the senate will make it any further than the assembly.
“The assembly has quite a different outlook to this, so there’s no guarantee it will pass,” he said. “I do expect it to pass in the long run, but not in its current senate form.”
However, Phil Palmesano, R-Corning, said he believes there’s a chance.
“I think the assembly will approve it,” Palmesano, R-Corning, said. “I think there are some concerns that have been raised in the past by some on the assembly, but I think at the end of the day, those concerns and questions can be answered so we can expand Uber into Upstate New York.”
Some of those concerns, he said, have to do with insurance and liability issues.
“I do expect and I’m hopeful that as the session goes on, that we’ll see Uber legislation that will be approved in both houses and signed into law by the governor,” he added.
Upstate Transportation Association President John Tomassi said that while he doesn’t have a problem with ride-sharing services coming upstate, he believes background checks for drivers should be expanded to include fingerprinting.
“Uber wants to rewrite the rules just for them,” he said. “And their comment is they’re not a taxi company, they’re a software company. We’re trying to insist that at the very minimum, they do fingerprinting and background checks, which is fairly standard.”
“They have found in situations across the country where their drivers have criminal records, have spent time in prison for murder convictions and stuff, and the background check doesn’t pick it up,” he said. “Uber just says ‘trust us.’”
Steuben County Manager Jack Wheeler said that while his office hasn’t done a county-wide analysis on the potential benefits of ride-sharing services, he is in favor of these services making their way upstate.
“I think additional methods of transportation around here is definitely a great thing. I see really no downside to it,” he said. “We live in rural areas where some folks have very few options for transportation, so adding another one to the plate I think is great.”
Currently, ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft are prohibited from operating outside of the New York City and Long Island areas.
The bill will need to pass the Democrat-controlled assembly before Governor Cuomo can have the opportunity to sign it.
“I don’t know if it’ll be the exact bill that passed the senate, but I think ultimately we’ll have a bill that’ll be agreed upon between the assembly and the senate and brought to the governor for a signature before the end of the session,” Palmesano said.