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Ridesharing Sought In Saratoga Springs

Alexander Torrenegra/Wikimedia Commons

App-controlled ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft have exploded in popularity in many of the United States’ major cities. But the services are outlawed in upstate New York. In Saratoga Springs, opponents and supporters gathered for the city’s first dialogue on bringing the services to the Spa City last night.

In the new legislative session, lawmakers are expected to debate regulations to bring ridesharing services upstate.

Over the past several months, in large communities like Albany and Poughkeepsie, Uber has rallied its supporters to bring the smartphone-based service upstate, which is not allowed outside New York City.

On Tuesday night, the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce brought both sides of the debate together in a city that thrives on a tourism economy.

Chamber president and CEO Todd Shimkus…

“Certainly in a tourist community like this, where people are coming from outside of the area – many from communities where they’re able to use ridesharing applications – we think it has some real viability here, particularly in the summer season.”

Taylor Zorman is a new to the Spa City. Originally from Cleveland, where she used Uber, the first time she visited Saratoga was last August during the hectic Travers weekend, which annually floods the city with visitors.

“Personally, it’s convenient. I mean, I would love to take a $6 Uber ride home instead of having to worry about parking, where I’m going to park, which I found out is a huge issue here. Everyone talks about where they’re going to park.”

Zorman says the service would help get more drunk drivers off the road.

One of Uber’s biggest cheerleaders in the Capital Region is Vic Christopher, co-owner of downtown Troy’s Lucas Confectionery and Peck’s Arcade restaurants.

“Introducing this service will open up a whole new demographic of customers from the surrounding areas that can get to our restaurants and bars, and enjoy our retail shopping very easily.”

Uber has released its own numbers that says if introduced it would bring 700 jobs to the region.

But the Saratoga County Chamber is cautious about taking a position on the issue.

“We certainly don’t want to support something that would harm local businesses or cause jobs to be eliminated. Whether it’s dispatchers, cab drivers, mechanics, we’re definitely sensitive to that,” said Shimkus.

James Graczyk, owner of Saratoga Springs-based Value Van Taxi and Car Service, said safety is his main concern, for customers and drivers. Graczyk is skeptical about how ridesharing drivers would be insured and certified.

“If it’s a level playing field, I’m all for it. I think competition is good for everybody. It keeps prices down and keeps service up. Those are all good things. But if they come into effect and they don’t have to pay $3,000 a car for insurance like I do, and the rest of our drivers, no vetted police background checks, no FBI checks, anything like that, that’s a safety issue.”

Safety is also a concern among states that already allow ridesharing. In Massachusetts, lawmakers have considered adding fingerprinting to driver background checks. There’s also the question if ridesharing drivers should be considered employees, rather than contractors, and therefore eligible for benefits.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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