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Ride-hailing approved for Upstate by NYS Senate

National Public Radio

Uber and Lyft could be coming to upstate New York under legislation passed by the state Senate. However, this is only the first-part of a three-way fight among the Senate, Assembly and governor.

The Assembly did not take up the legislation last year and it is not clear it will this year. State Senator Patrick Gallivan says there is greater need in his suburban and rural district.

"They typically don't have taxis available to them and many of them are parents," the Elma Republican says. "They have talked about having a little more piece of mind if their kids are out and about at a restaurant or drinking that they have an alternative means of transportation."

State Senator Chris Jacobs says he has found a lot of interest among residents "who really are very, very interested in ride-sharing as an alternative form of transportation and where there is not access to public transportation, there's not access to many taxicabs. This is a real avenue for them to have access, especially times of year, perhaps, where an older person wouldn't be comfortable driving when in weather like we have right now."

State Senator Rob Ortt says he wants the services in his district, but also wants the kind of safety measures used now in New York City, like background checks and fingerprinting.

"They do it down in the City," the North Tonawanda Republican says. "My gut reaction is a person driving around Manhattan is just as valuable as somebody driving around on Chippewa or in Newfane or anywhere else in the state, so I would like to see a uniform background check. Whatever works downstate I think should work upstate. I don't see why Uber or Lyft should have any objection to that."

Ortt says people coming into New York from other places expect the ride-hailing services to be available.

Senator Catharine Young said the bill passed Monday differs from the Governor’s proposal by significantly cutting the taxes charged to customers.

"The bill cuts the tax charged on non-New York City rides from 5.5 percent, as proposed by the Governor, to 2 percent, and does not subject rides to the 4 percent state sales tax," said the Olean Republican. "The Senate’s plan also designates new revenue from ride-hailing directly toward infrastructure improvements for roads, bridges and county transit needs."

She said the Senate’s bill also includes public safety provisions, such as criminal and driving history background checks, detailed driver information and trip charges for passengers, as well as zero-tolerance drug and alcohol policies.

Buffalo is now the second-largest U.S. city without Uber. The Democrat-controlled Assembly has yet to vote on the measure. Gov. Andrew Cuomo supports the expansion.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.