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Supporters of Lyft, Uber urge Upstate approval

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

State lawmakers are being pressed to allow transport services, such as Uber and Lyft, to operate in Upstate New York. Supporters of those services gathered outside Kleinhans Music Hall Thursday to urge quick passage.

The ride-hailing services operate on a business model through which users, using an app on a smartphone, may arrange private transportation. At this time within New York State, such services are allowed to operate only in New York City.

On Thursday, local supporters of ride-hailing, often referred to as "ride-sharing," gathered at Kleinhan's Music Hall in Buffalo to rally and call on state lawmakers to approve the service for Upstate New York. 

The reasons for allowing companies like Uber and Lyft, they say, include opportunities to fill gaps where other public or private transportation options may be limited.

"Some live and work in areas where there are huge transportation gaps," said Rhonda Frederick, president and CEO of People, Inc. "Having ride-sharing options can help our seniors and individuals with disabilities get to critical doctor appointments. Ride-sharing can help employees who may not have their own car or be on a bus line. It helps increase employment."

Another reason put forward by ride-hailing supporters is safety. Having the services available, they content, will cut down on the number of drunk drivers on local roadways.

Those working directly in the local tourism industry say not having Uber of Lyft available in Buffalo, they suggest, will work against the region's tourism and economic development efforts.

"From corporate and business professionals, conventioneers and event attendees, and leisure travelers, they have all become conditioned to pull out their phones, tap on an icon, and request a Lyft or Uber vehicle," said Patrick Kaler, president and CEO of Visit Buffalo Niagara, who pointed out that the service is available just across the border in the Niagara region of Southern Ontario. "It's what's become expected, and proves to be a disappointing challenge in Buffalo when the message 'no car' appears."

The local taxi industry has expressed its welcome to competition, but only if possible incoming rivals such as Uber and Lyft are held to the same regulations as the existing traditional cab business. A representative of Liberty Communications, which provides services such as Liberty Cab and Yellow Cab, spoke to WBFO at Kleinhan's Music Hall as well. 

Among the concerns, suggested Liberty consultant Mark Robinson, was holding drivers to the same standards as cab drivers.

"The current cab industry has to go through City Hall and receive permission from them. It's called a Hack License to hire somebody," said Mark Robinson, consultant for Liberty Communications. "They do a background check, they check their criminal history, their driving records, et cetera. And then once that happens, we can then entertain them to be an employee for us."

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown expressed his belief that's there's plenty of room in his city for both traditional taxi companies and ride-hailing services. Recalling the debate years ago over food trucks and fixed "brick and mortar" restaurants, Brown said in time it was proven both businesses could co-exist and thrive.

"I think we will see the same thing with ride-sharing and with the traditional taxi cab industry, where both will flourish, where both will do well and where both will provide better services to consumers of our community," Brown said. 

Also supporting state approval of ride-hailing services in Upstate New York are the mayors of Rochester, Syracuse and Albany, as well as the Onondaga County Legislature. In Buffalo, supporters are urging state lawmakers to act quickly to make the services available by the end of the current legislative session.

"Time is running out to get ride-sharing approved," said Erie County Legislator Joseph Lorigo. "The State Legislature breaks for recess at the end of June. Again, I implore them to get something done this year. Residents of Western New York have waited long enough."

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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