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Lyft interviewing potential drivers, as ride-hailing set to begin Upstate

WBFO's Mike Desmond

With ride-hailing slated to start in a week, Lyft was in the Employment and Training Center Tuesday interviewing potential drivers.

Lyft workers in the center would not comment, citing orders from higher-ups in the company. However, prospective workers said they were not being told a lot, but were being asked to take pictures of their cars and their driver's licenses. One person left because he was waiting to get his license back.

The system works the same way as rival ride-hailing app Uber,  with GPS to connect the closest Lyft driver to the person who wants a ride for a trip. Donna said she was interested for some daytime extra money.

"It sounds like it would be fun and Buffalo needs it," she said. "It'll keep people safer because they will get a safe ride home without any drunk drivers."

Donna said she has no formal experience, driving a cab or a bus, but she has a kind of experience.

"I've carted around people a lot, but I guess you could say I was a mom's taxi at one time," Donna said.

All the drivers interviewed were not looking for full-time Lyft work, but part-time for some extra cash.

"I find it's something I can do with my time," said Angel Ocasio, a former Metro Bus driver. "I'm not stuck to a time card. I'm retired. I don't really a need a lot of money. I'm not looking to get rich. I just want to get something in my pocket because I got enough pension to pay the bills, but I just don't have enough money to go on vacations, once in a while."

Russell Barnes said it looked interesting, although he has no experience driving a cab or something similar.

"I have not, no," he said. "That's one of the reasons why I'm interested, too. A new challenge. It's something that I've never done before. I have experience driving. I like driving and why not try to get paid a little bit for it, if possible."

Barnes said he has a job, so this would be only a part-time position at the wheel. Others attending the interview event said about the same as Barnes. They were looking for part-time work and extra cash, nothing full-time.

The recruitment comes as lawmakers are urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign their bill that would prevent sex offenders from driving for ride-hailing companies.

“Ride-hailing is a business built on trust. Consumers place their trust in these companies and their drivers to get them safely to their destinations,” said Sen. Sue Serino. “To think that consumers could unknowingly get into the private vehicle of a registered sex offender because of a loophole in the New York State law is unconscionable."

Specifically, the law allowing ride-hailing Upstate requires potential drivers to obtain a Transportation Network Company Driver permit. Individuals found on the U.S. Department of Justice National Sex Offender Public Website are expressly prohibited from receiving that permit. However, the database only lists those who are designated as Levels 2 and 3 sex offenders in New York, lawmakers cautioned.

Laura Ahearn, Executive Director of the Crime Victims Center/Parents for Megan’s Law, echoed their call.

“Under New York’s Megan’s Law, Level 1 offenders are required to register for a minimum of 20 years, so arbitrarily allowing sex offenders to obtain permits for driving for these companies after just seven years places passengers at great risk and gives the public a false sense of security," Ahearn said.

If the Governor signs the bill, it will take effect immediately. The state legislative session is scheduled to end Wednesday.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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