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Erie County lawmakers provide $100,000 to push for Upstate ride hailing

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

Backed by $100,000 provided by the Erie County Legislature, Visit Buffalo Niagara will create a campaign that aims to convince Albany lawmakers to approve app-based ride hailing throughout Upstate New York in 2017.

Legislature Majority Leader Joseph Lorigo led a news conference inside KeyBank Center in downtown Buffalo. He was the first of four speakers to share the sentiment that not having ride-hailing services in Buffalo is simply unacceptable.

"Currently, Uber and Lyft operate in over 500 cities across the globe and Buffalo is the largest city in the world not to have ride sharing," Lorigo said. "It's absurd that this is the case. Every time there's a large event locally, we hear and get inundated with comments from people who cannot believe that Buffalo, New York does not have ride sharing."

Elected officials and tourism advocates alike say they receive countless complaints from out-of-town visitors that ride hailing is unavailable in Western New York. The ride-hailing company Uber recently reported that 43,000 people statewide tried unsuccessfully to hire rides while returning home for Thanksgiving. 

Downtown Buffalo is set to host two major sporting events in 2017, the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament in March and the International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship beginning in late December. KeyBank Center and HarborCenter will host the games. Michael Gilbert, general manager of HarborCenter and a Buffalo Sabres vice president, says KeyBank Center and HarborCenter welcomed nearly a million people last year.

"Not everybody, obviously, wanted Uber. But the thousands of people that come from out of town and stay in the Marriott, that come through here for the hockey tournaments, the single biggest thing we hear all the time is no Uber, no Lyft. Why is there no ride sharing?" Gilbert said.

Visit Buffalo Niagara is still exploring options for how to conduct the campaign, but president and CEO Patrick Kaler suggests it will include an advertising campaign in the Capital District. The organization will use its own marketing and creative team to craft the message.

"The state legislators in Albany need to hear from Upstate, hear the importance of this, hear firsthand how we're losing business, how we're losing our competitive edge," Kaler said. 

Leaders say the campaign will not involve the hiring of lobbyists to work on behalf of the cause.

The money, explained Lorigo, was originally allocated to a firm tasked with finding potential Canadian businesses interested in moving to Western New York. But with no such leads discovered, Lorigo and his peers decided to instead give it to Visit Buffalo Niagara.

Others who have joined the cause to bring ride hailing to Western New York include the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police. Even Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, during a visit to Buffalo Monday, expressed hope that issues holding up passage of ride hailing beyond New York City could be resolved to benefit Upstate. 

Lorigo is hopeful that Hochul's boss, Governor Andrew Cuomo, will be among those pressuring the Assembly to get it passed.

"When Kazakhstan has Uber and Buffalo doesn't, we're behind the eight ball," he said.

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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