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Buffalo councilmember seeks head start on hoped approval of ride-hailing

Omar Fetouh, WBFO News

Ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft are currently not permitted to do business in Upstate New York cities including Buffalo. But believing that Albany will one day change that, Buffalo Common Councilmember Joseph Golombek is proposing changes to city ordinances that would make it smoother for such companies to open in the city.

Uber reported that on the eve of Thanksgiving, traditionally one of the busiest nights of the year for bars, more than 43,000 people in Upstate New York activated its smartphone app, only to discover they could not hire a ride outside of New York City.

Advocates for ride hailing say it's another sign that New York State is missing out on a new economic opportunity.  Golombek believes state lawmakers will eventually recognize this and approve such services beyond New York City. But first, there are issues to resolve Upstate.

"Much of it is Albany-related," Golombek said. "The insurance is an issue right now. If you have a taxi cab, you have to pay much higher insurance than if you are an Uber driver. If you are an Uber driver, my concern is that if you get into an accident, you don't have the proper insurance."

That, he adds, could make the City of Buffalo vulnerable to lawsuits. Golombek's proposed amendments to city ordinances would include app-oriented ride hailing companies in the same laws governing taxi companies.

"We are trying to level the playing field, making sure that drivers for ride-share would be certified by the City of Buffalo just like a taxi cab driver would be," he said.

Golombek introduced his proposed amendments at Tuesday's Common Council meeting. He told WBFO the proposals will first spend time in committee. He is also hoping to have discussions with Uber and with taxi companies. 

"It's not easy," he said. "People think you just wave a magic wand and everything is able to be up and running. But there's a lot of concerns people would have. One of the concerns is that if there's an accident, I don't want the City of Buffalo to be sued because we did not do our due diligence."

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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