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Lawmakers Gather At Albany City Hall To Renew Push To Expand Ridesharing To Upstate

The Capital Region Ridesharing Coalition at Albany City Hall urged the New York State Legislature to pass ridesharing early in the 2017 session.
WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
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The Capital Region Ridesharing Coalition at Albany City Hall urged the New York State Legislature to pass ridesharing early in the 2017 session.

Local and state officials, business groups and members of law enforcement gathered in Albany City Hall's rotunda Thursday in support of expanding ridesharing upstate next year.

The rally was organized by the Capital Region Ridesharing Coalition, which is frustrated that Uber and Lyft apps are useless north of New York City.

Led by Troy restaurateur Vic Christopher, the press conference included Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple and Assembly members John McDonald and Pat Fahy.

Christopher has been a vocal supporter of expanding the ride-hailing apps. "New Year's Eve is approaching. Annually New York state sees 40,000 arrests for DWI. During the course of New Year's holiday crackdown you'll see 500 arrests for DWI. You'll probably see close to six deaths."

Christopher says reducing the number of drunk drivers is just one argument for legalizing ridesharing. Sheriff Apple says his office tallied 19 alcohol-related fatalities last year. He considers ridesharing an effective tool in the battle to stop people from driving drunk. "Give them the alternative. It's a safe, inexpensive way to get home. I don't understand what the problem is. The whole name of the game here is to remove intoxicated drivers from our highways. And, remove that little bar that right now if you're sitting out there and you hit that Uber app, it says 'Sorry, Uber not currently available in your area.'"

“Ride sharing needs to be a complement of the transportation system for any city in the 21st century,” ~ Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan.
Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
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“Ride sharing needs to be a complement of the transportation system for any city in the 21st century,” ~ Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan.

Ridesharing apps are barred upstate due to New York Insurance Law; New York City was granted an exemption. Mayor Sheehan says Albany and its residents would greatly benefit from ridesharing. "As a mayor that represents thousands and thousands of college students who do not have the ability to use an app that can be used across the country to get home safely if they're in a situation where they're with a group of people who have had too much to drink. Or, if they simply want to get back to campus. The busses are an important part of that transportation, and if Carm Basile were here, he would tell you the same thing. He's the CEO of CDTA. He supports rideshare. Our university presidents support rideshare. Our business owners support rideshare. I talk with senior citizens in our NORC, a 'Naturally Occurring Retirement Community' out on Whitehall Road. And you know what? They support rideshare. Being able to have an app that they can use to get to the grocery store, to go to visit a grandchild, to not have to worry about transacting in cash. To know that a vehicle is actually going to show up, the first time that they press that app. That they're not going to be calling back to a dispatcher three times, and then being hung up on."

As in other areas of the country, expanding ridesharing faces opposition from traditional taxi companies and drivers.

Christopher says upstate is crying out for ridesharing. "Welcome to Tech Valley, the land of innovation, where we build a billion-dollar chip fab plant just to invite people from all over the world so they can laugh at us for not having Uber and Lyft when they get here."

"My request is that the Governor and the Legislature act swiftly the first two weeks of January to not hold this initiative up..." ~ Assemblyman John McDonald.
Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
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"My request is that the Governor and the Legislature act swiftly the first two weeks of January to not hold this initiative up..." ~ Assemblyman John McDonald.

A measure in the Assembly to address that issue has yet to be brought to the floor. Assemblyman McDonald:  "Unfortunately, and maybe it's a good thing in some circumstances, we're not back in Albany this week. Because I would have been here to do ridesharing legislation. Not terribly concerned about the pay raise, not my interest. But ridesharing legislation, and for this reason: it is the most simplistic economic development opportunity that the state can put into play tomorrow."

Georgette Steffens, executive director of the Downtown Albany Business Improvement District, says ridesharing is about safety, remaining competitive and welcoming visitors. "We're about to open our convention center at the end of March, a projected 80,000 visitors coming to our Capital City. And how do we have them move around? How do we get them to experience the history, the incredible food and wine that we have in our region, and it's through ridesharing, an absolute necessity for our region to grow and continue to attract the best of the best for 2017."

Capital Region Chamber director of government relations Tom O'Connor says his message to legislators is "2,500 area business owners want the ability to open an app and hail Uber or Lyft." "You need to act and bring ridesharing now. We've had too many of these press conferences. The next press conference we should have is 'Guess what, New York? We have Uber and Lyft!"

Attendees at City Hall also included business owner Matt Baumgartner and  Troy Deputy Mayor Monica Kurzejeski.

In response, Upstate Transportation Association president John Tomassi emailed the following statement:

“This was just another publicity stunt in Uber’s multimillion-dollar campaign against basic safety regulations. Common sense demands that upstate passengers have the same protections as New York City passengers – including fingerprint background checks for every ridesharing driver. We look forward to discussing passenger safety and insurance standards in public hearings after the state legislative session begins in January.”

The next session begins January 4th.

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