Advocates tout advantages of ride-hailing, hope for Albany decision

Jun 14, 2016

Ride-hailing has been touted as a mechanism for job creation, a way to lessen drunk driving, and a key to improving transportation in areas where it is otherwise lacking. On Tuesday morning, a group of advocates joined forces to urge Albany lawmakers to decide on legislation that would bring ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft to cities across Upstate New York.

Credit WBFO's Omar Fetouh / WBFO News

The houses of the state legislature have just two days left in session and, as the situation stands, ride-hailing is an item still sitting on the fence. The issue holding up their decision focuses on a difference in the amount of insurance required for ride-hailing drivers in bills put forth in the Assembly (A.8195-B) and in the Senate (S418C). The Assembly’s bill requires significantly higher levels of insurance.

Speaking in a phone conference with members of the media, Democratic State Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi of Utica said that a vote for the Assembly bill would serve to prevent the ride-hailing from coming to Upstate cities.

“If that were to pass and become law, I think ridesharing would be limited to probably some of the wealthier suburbs around New York City, but places like Utica or Syracuse or Rochester and Buffalo would probably be left out, and that concerns me,” said Brindisi. “We’re trying to get this done this year because we need more transportation options, but also because it really casts a negative light on Upstate New York as being behind the times.”

Brindisi said it’s embarrassing for upstate cities when visitors and tourists arrive, only to find they can’t easily get around. Niagara Tourism and Convention Corporation President John Percy echoed Brindisi’s sentiment, saying, “We are telling our guests, our visitors from around the world that this is not an option. We get asked every day. We get asked daily in our visitor centers, and in our phone calls from potential visitors and people that are even in the marketplace that don’t have the option to utilize this type of service.”

Percy said the availability of ride-hailing is imperative to staying competitive in the global tourism market.

From a business perspective, Amherst Chamber of Commerce President Colleen DiPirro said she took a “deep dive” through the Western New York community and found that businesses were nearly unanimous in their support for ride-hailing.

A student-focused perspective was offered by Rochester Institute of Technology Student Body President Andrea Shaver, who said that like many of RIT’s 15,000 U.S. and international students, she has felt stuck on campus due to limited transportation options. Shaver said she hasn’t been able to fully explore the city around her and, for many others, that kind of experience limits a desire to stay. She sees the possibility of ride-hailing as a way to combat the loss of intellectual talent.

“As you see students going into the city experiencing it, they realize how awesome each of these cities really are. We don’t want to experience a brain drain. Students are leaving Rochester when they graduate. They’re not interested in staying here,” said Shaver.

All of the advocates were joined by Noah Theran, Vice President of Public Affairs and Communication for the Internet Association – an organization which represents scores of internet-based companies, including Uber and Lyft. Theran said two thirds of New Yorkers are in favor of ride-hailing. While he did not have an exact breakdown of the cost to ride-hailing services and their drivers based on the respective legislative bills, Brindisi said that he had seen estimates saying that the Assembly bill would cost ride-hailing customers an additional eight to twelve dollars per fare.