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Ranzenhofer pushing for accelerated start for upstate ride-hailing

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

A local state senator is sponsoring legislation that would allow companies such as Uber and Lyft to begin service in the Buffalo area, and other cities outside of New York City, sooner than legally allowed. Senator Michael Ranzenhofer has now picked up a key ally in the Assembly.

Ranzenhofer and other supporters of ride-hailing stood on the corner of Marine Drive and Hanover Street near Canalside, not far from where thousands are expected to enjoy Independence Day festivities early next month. Currently, services such as Uber and Lyft will not be allowed to serve Buffalo-area customers until July 9, after the holiday.

Although ride-hailing was approved in the state budget, it doesn't take effect for 90 days, as per state law. This year, the state budget was approved later than the April 1 deadline and, thus, legislation will also not take effect until after July 1.

Ranzenhofer's bill would move the start date to July 1, so that ride-hailing services would be available in time for the holiday. He says a dozen senators have lined up to offer bipartisan support. He also has a counterpart in the Assembly, Kevin Cahill of Kingston, who has introduced a similar bill in his legislative house.

"That makes the bill that much closer to reality, with Assemblyman Cahill's leadership in the Assembly," Ranzenhofer said. "I look forward to working with Assemblyman Cahill as we move forward to pass this bill in the Senate and then in the Assembly."

Among those lending support to the senator was Erie County Legislature Majority Leader Joseph Lorigo, who shared Ranzenhofer's sentiment that making ride-hailing available by July 1 will make the Independence Day holiday safer for those who may indulge in alcoholic beverages during the festivities.

"DWIs and accidents actually increase over that holiday," Lorigo said. "So if we can get safe, reliable transportation in Western New York for the holiday, it would be a great thing."

Tourism leaders have been eagerly waiting for the arrival of Uber and Lyft, reminding local leaders that the absence of such services is among the most common complaints they receive. Patrick Kaler, president and CEO of Visit Buffalo Niagara, says when ride-hailing is in place, they'll make sure visitors know it.

"I think the world has taken notice that Buffalo hasn't had ride sharing," Kaler said. "We're going to be making sure that everybody, through all of our efforts, are very well aware. We'll be pushing this out through social media of course, using that as a very quick platform to let everybody know that we have it."

Kaler added that July traditionally brings the highest rates of occupancy among hotels in Erie County. Later this year, Buffalo will host two major events. The commissioning of the new USS Little Rock is expected in late September (though a date had not yet been finalized by the U.S. Navy) and in December the International Ice Hockey Federation U20 Championship, better known as the World Juniors, returns downtown.

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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