It is Time for Uber and Lyft in Upstate New York

A Legislative Column by Assemblyman Will Barclay
Last September in Baltimore, Buffalo Bills players Jerry Hughes and Zach Brown missed the team bus for their game at M&T Bank Stadium.

To make the game on time, they used Uber a ridesharing company they accessed with an app on their smartphones.

Following the incident, the players made headlines after taking to social media and sharing their experience.

The president of Uber thereafter wrote an open letter to Bill’s owner Terry Pegula.

In his letter, he noted that had the players missed the team bus in Buffalo, they couldn’t have been rescued by Uber because Buffalo is the only NFL city in America where ridesharing is unavailable.

Uber and other ridesharing services are unavailable not only in Buffalo but in all of Upstate New York because state government has been unable to agree on a regulatory scheme to govern ridesharing companies and their services.

Ridesharing companies, or as perhaps more appropriately named ride-sourcing companies, match people who need transportation with drivers by means of an app on a smartphone.

Where ride-sourcing is available, passengers in need of transportation can open the app on their phone and type where they want to go.

Using that same online platform, a driver is then able to find the passenger and for a fee take the passenger where he or she wants to go.

When downloading the app, the passenger provides credit card information.

Ride-sourcing companies like Uber or Lyft use the passenger’s credit card to bill for the ride.

They then keep a percentage of the fee and pay the driver the remainder.

This results in no cash being exchanged between the driver and the passenger.

Reaching a consensus on how ride-sourcing services should be regulated in New York has been a challenge.

Ride-sourcing services present direct competition to traditional taxi cab companies.

Municipalities heavily regulate taxi cab services.

As a result, taxi cab companies claim that it is unfair to allow companies like Uber and Lyft, who provide similar transportation services, to operate outside of this regulatory framework.

Uber and Lyft on the other hand contend that they aren’t traditional cab services.

Rather, on the most basic level, they claim that they are simply providing a software platform that matches drivers with passenger.

They contend that drivers are independent contractors and accordingly the regulatory framework should not necessarily apply – particularly when it comes to required insurance coverage.

Regardless of this contention, it’s time for New York to resolve the issue.

Embarrassingly, Upstate New York is one of the few places in the United States where ride-sourcing is unavailable due to failure of the state to agree on a workable regulatory scheme.

Certainly, ride-sourcing companies and their drivers need to be regulated.

However, they have been innovative and they should not simply be outlawed because taxi cab companies dislike competition.

I would be pleased if we could resolve this issue in a special session before the end of the year.

Otherwise, it should be a top priority for the legislature and the Governor when we are back in session in January.

If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office.

My office can be reached by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, NY 13069, by e-mail at [email protected], or by calling (315) 598-5185.

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