Governor Cuomo is proposing that New York State allow ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft.
The ride-sharing services have been trying unsuccessfully to expand to areas outside of New York City. Upstate and parts of Long Island are among the last places in the country not to have access to companies like Uber and Lyft. Governor Cuomo, in a series State of the State speeches, said in Buffalo that it’s time that changed, calling it an “unfair duality”.
“If it makes sense for downstate, it makes sense for upstate,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo says he believes the ride-sharing services could create thousands of jobs, cut down on drunk driving and even boost tourism and attract more business and gatherings to upstate New York.
Under the proposal, the state Department of Motor Vehicles would license and regulate the drivers, and the companies would be required to buy insurance that provide up to one million dollars coverage for drivers and passengers if there’s an accident. Drivers would also be eligible for worker’s compensation.
Uber spokesman Josh Gold is relieved that the idea might finally have traction.
“Thank you Governor Cuomo for listening to the voices of New Yorkers who are demanding affordable, reliable transportation options like Uber,” gold said. “ It’s time for the Empire State to join New York City and the 47 other states in allowing ridesharing services to operate.”
Adrian Durbin, Director of Policy Communications at Lyft , says the company “applauds” Cuomo’s proposal.
The governor’s plan also drew positive response from restaurant owners, mothers Against Drunk Driving, and the owner of the Buffalo Bills and Sabres.
Taxi driving companies have the most to lose if the ride-sharing services are permitted.
John Tomassi, President of the Upstate Transportation Association, says his group is not against Uber and Lyft, though, and he can even see instances where the additional services are needed, like when a big convention center event lets out.
“They don’t have the luxury of having a surge of drivers just for a four hour period,” said Tomassi, who said there are insurance payments, and medallion purchases and those costs add up. “They’re not going to have ten or fifteen extra vehicles sitting around just to take care of some occasional peak demands.”
But Tomassi says ride-sharing service drivers should be subject to some of the same regulations that taxi drivers are, which he says are designed for public safety. He says Uber and Lyft drivers should be fingerprinted and in some cases, undergo police background checks, just like regular taxi drivers. He says it’s already required in New York City.
“We’re saying why should it be any less for the people upstate?” Tomassi asked.
Gold, with Uber argues that fingerprinting does not necessarily guarantee safety, and have been shown to be unreliable.
“We believe in background checks,” said Gold, who said Uber checks searches national, state and local databases including sex offender registries.
Cuomo’s plan seems to side with Uber and Lyft, requiring background checks but not fingerprinting.
Some state lawmakers have also voiced objections. They want New York’s disabled people to have ready access to the car services. Gold, the Uber spokesman, says while that might not happen immediately, it has evolved in other regions where the services have been up and running for a couple of years.
He says Uber does not own the cars drivers use, and so has to convince drivers to invest in specialized vans or other vehicles to pick up passengers with mobility issues.
The legislature will have to give final approval to the ride-sharing services. Several bills are circulating, but there’s no agreement yet on any one measure.