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Albany Assembly Members Support Ride-Sharing

Composite Image by Dave Lucas (WAMC)

Two Albany-area Assemblymembers  have joined the push for ride-sharing companies to be allowed to operate across New York.

Companies like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar utilize smartphone apps that connect drivers with riders. Democratic Assemblymembers Pat Fahy and John McDonald are the first Capital Region co-sponsors of a bill that would pave the way for such companies to operate across New York.  Republican State Senator George Amedore supports the Senate version of the bill.

Fahy argues transportation is a key component of "smart growth" throughout the Capital Region and says the bill would lift some of the restrictions on insurance to expand the use of transportation networks companies.  "Ride sharing would add a number of transportation options, while providing flexibility for local riders as well as visitors in the Capital Region. Companies such as Uber and Lyft have already provided a new dimension in transportation, and I believe it will support our region’s growing economic success here."

Uber currently operates in 57 countries, not only providing door-to-door transportation: the company offers employment opportunities for any licensed driver with a clean record and a reliable vehicle.

Vic Christopher is a businessman from Troy. "Right now there's not a culture that exists of people taking mass transportation in large numbers in the Capital Region. There's certainly not a culture that exists of people utilizing our cab services."   He sees it as an inexpensive start-up opportunity for citizen-entrepreneurs.  "It's a cashless transaction and the cars are very clean. The drivers are basically small-business owners who have a lot of pride in workmanship."

But many governments and taxi companies are dead-set against Uber and its ilk, alleging that its use of unlicensed, crowd-sourced drivers is unsafe and illegal. Bret Peek owns Capitaland Taxi, the largest fleet of cabs in the Albany area.  "They're accepting money for fares in vehicles that aren't insured to do it and they're skirting the municipal laws that are in place to protect the customer and the taxicab companies. It seems like these legislators are just either - they don't understand it or they're doing it for votes or doing it for money into their campaign funds."

In turn, Assemblyman McDonald is highly critical of the existing local taxi system.     "The service here in the Capital Region does need to step it up. And by the same token what is unique about ride-sharing is that it embraces all of the modern-day technology to let those who are looking for rides control their destiny."

Peek says his taxis are equipped with credit-card readers, and points out there are "taxi apps" a company like his could use, but taxi demand is "soft" in this part of the state.  80 percent of Capitaland Taxi fares are subsidized by Medicaid or Medicare.   "It's one thing in New York City or San Francisco or something like that. But a place like this area? At 2 o'clock in the morning if you're sitting at a bar drunk and you want an Uber driver, you might get one. You may. But at 4 o'clock in the morning? Not gonna happen, because those guys can come on and go off as quickly as pushing a button on their cell phone. Their vehicle pops up on Uber's app or it doesn't. You think at 4 o'clock in the morning when the really bad stuff happens there's gonna be Uber drivers out there?  No, they don't want that. They don't want the hassle. They don't want people throwing up in their vehicles. They don't want fights. They don't want all that stuff. So the bar owners will call the taxicab companies. But if there are no taxicab companies left..."

While Peek adds nothing beats the safety and security of a "medallion" cab, estimates have Uber generating $10 billion in revenue by the end of 2015.

Earlier this month, The FOX Business Network reported that Melrose Credit Union, New York City’s largest financier of taxi licenses, aka “medallions,” threatened Mayor Bill de Blasio with a multi-billion dollar lawsuit unless the ride-sharing company begins to comply with the city’s taxi laws.

Meantime, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has filed legislation to institute statewide regulations around ride-sharing companies, which, if passed into law, could potentially give the state more regulatory control... a proposal Uber publicly embraces on its blog.

Capital Region Mayors who spoke to the Times Union expressed receptiveness to ride-hailing services — or at least to improving local taxi service.

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