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Concerns voiced over Uber, Lyft expansions

Photo from Karen Dewitt

Uber and other ride sharing services are gearing up to win permission from the state legislature to operate in areas outside New York City. State Senators held a round table discussion of how to craft legislation.

Senators appear open to allowing Uber, Lyft, and other ride sharing services to operate in New York State, as long as they can come up with the right rules. Senator Phil Boyle, Chair of the Commerce and Economic Development Committee co chaired the discussion.

“I do want to get in the way of the technology and innovative economy,” said Boyle, a Republican who represents a Long Island district . “I know change is coming and change is good, but we do need to make it fair for everyone.”

Senators say they favor a comprehensive statewide model, dealing with insurance and driver and vehicle requirements,  that would apply to all municipalities outside New York City. The City has already struck it's own deal with the companies.   Richard Milne, with the New York Conference of Mayors, and mayor of the small village of Honeoye Falls, says most small cities, villages and towns don’t  have the resources to set individual rules for the app based ride sharing services.

“Most of our communities would not have the time or the ability to worry about regulating taxi services or lift services in their communities,” Milne said. 

Mike Neidl , with the state’s AFL-CIO union organization,  is one of many expressing reservations. He says the drivers for ride sharing vehicles, must provide their own car and did not receive any health care or other benefits. He wants to make sure a second tier class of workers is not created. He points out that Governor Cuomo recently initiated an exploited worker task force.

“We just want to make sure we’re not creating another class of employee with substandard  wages and substandard rights,” Neidl said.

He says the ride sharing companies should perhaps be required to help pay for the upkeep of roads and bridges, in an arrangement similar to New York City, where taxi cab companies pay a fee towards public transit.

The people least happy at the discussion, though, were owners of cab companies.  Mark Ilacqua, who runs a taxi and medical transportation service in Syracuse, spoke on behalf of the Limousine, Bus and Taxi Operators of Upstate New York. He says they are “deeply concerned” that if the ride sharing companies don’t have to stick to the same rules as taxi services, it will have a “negative impact” on existing businesses, and he predicts “full time, professional jobs” will be lost .

Ilacqua says lower income people without smart phones or credit cards will be shut out of the new ride sharing services.

“All we’re asking is that you slow down, and do not believe everything you’re being told,” Ilacqua said. “And do your due diligence for all your constituents.”

Disabled advocates also argued that there need to be provisions so that people in wheelchairs or scooters can get rides, too. Jim Weisman is with the United Spinal Association.

“We don’t want to get left at the curb,” Weisman said.

He says if a statewide law governing Uber, Lyft and the other services were approved, local governments would be prevented from adding additional requirements that would help serve the disabled.

Nicole Benincasa, with Uber, says the service will create new employment .

“We’re projecting 13,000 job opportunities in the first year alone,” Benincasa said.

Uber and the other companies have support from Governor Cuomo, and many Democrats in the Assembly, including the Majority Leader, Joe Morelle.

Morelle, from Rochester, spoke outside a meeting of Assembly Democrats this week. He says the services could fill a void in wide swaths of upstate that have no taxi services.

“There are few opportunities for people, whether you’re a senior or a young person, to get around in an affordable, accessible way,” Morelle said. “I think this will improve that dramatically.”

But Morelle says the proper regulations need to be in place. He predicts that traditional style taxi and limo services will become more like the disrupters, and will also offer apps for car ordering and payment options.

The ride sharing companies  have already hired top Albany lobbyists and mounted a vigorous campaign.  And they’ve garnered support from several business groups, including the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, the Rochester Business Alliance, and the Capital Region Chamber of Commerce.  It’s all in the hopes of getting the go ahead to offer rides in upstate New York and on Long Island, after the next legislative session.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.