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Ride-Sharing Becomes Legal Statewide Under New New York State Budget

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After years of efforts, ride-sharing advocates are celebrating in New York this week. The latest state budget deal paves the way for companies like Uber and Lyft to operate upstate.  

Both companies are planning rollouts as they try to determine areas where need exists, and whether service should be activated in one city or area before another. Albany-area Democratic Assemblywoman Pat Fahy says ride-sharing offers a multitude of benefits.   "It will help local economic development. It will allow people to go out to our restaurants and maybe have a drink with their dinner or two and not have to worry about driving responsibly if they are to use the ride-hailing services. I think it's also a safety measure for college students as well. So I think it's positive and yet I think we also came to some positive agreements here to protect not just the riders but the drivers."

Uber and Lyft currently operate in New York City under a 2001 arrangement through existing taxi laws that will not change. 

Several upstate law enforcement officials, notably Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple, support ride-sharing as a means of cutting down drunk driving crashes and fatalities.  A City University of New York study entitled "New York City Drunk Driving After Uber" attributes a 25-35 percent decrease in alcohol-related crashes to the availability of ride-hailing services.

Drivers must be at least 19 years old. Groups that opposed ride-sharing in New York called for drivers to be fingerprinted, but lawmakers opted to impose a rigorous screening process that includes criminal background checks. According to Fahy, the Department of Motor Vehicles will have "broad oversight" of the industry.   "It will be regulated by the DMV, our Department of Motor Vehicles. Any driver will now have to have a certain minimum of insurance in their cars, even when they're just looking for a passenger."

The minimum required is set at $75,000 per person for death and bodily injury, $150,000 per occurrence for death and bodily injury and $25,000 for property damage. During “Period Two” —  when the driver has accepted a passenger — and “Period Three”— when a passenger is being transported and until that passenger is discharged — a $1.25 million liability insurance policy is required along with $1.25 million in supplementary uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage.

Joe Bonilla with the Capital Ride Sharing Coalition says the service will become available upstate in about 90 days, and expects the impact to be immediate with summer events and activities.  "Track season is coming up and other festivals and other places people want to go to enjoy the summer. This is something that we needed. We call ourselves 'Tech Valley' and certainly now the name can actually mean that. This region is a wonderful place to live, work and play, and ride-sharing connects that together."

Ride-sharing is not a sure thing everywhere: New York's four biggest cities — Yonkers, Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo — can choose whether to allow the services to operate within city limits.  Bonilla believes wherever it is implemented, ride-sharing will transform public transportation.   "Ride-sharing is not meant to replace taxi and livery service. It's meant to complement it. So the hope would be that taxi and livery operators in the Capital Region and all throughout New York state look at this as really that galvanizing point where they need to step their service up. And certainly there will be ways for them to collaborate with the apps. The work CDTA that has been doing in terms of building this regulatory structure that's going to help transform the taxi and livery service in this area into more of a regional approach. They shouldn't look at this as the end of their way of life. This might very well provide them an opportunity to improve their service. If you look in New York City, taxi cabs can be requested through Uber and Lyft by the app. So there's certainly some technological improvements that they can see as well."

Groups representing cab drivers disagree, and continued criticizing lawmakers over the deal.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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