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Waiting for Uber dreams to come true

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State lawmakers have been circulating draft legislation that would clear the way for ridesharing in Upstate. There'd been speculation that the bills could get a vote during a possible special session this week, but talks to hold the session have collapsed.

The issue will now be front and center when the Legislature's new session starts in January.

Jesse Sleezer, spokesperson for Senator Rich Funke, says that he wouldn't be surprised to see an Upstate ridesharing measure in the governor's budget, which the Legislature will receive in early 2017. Funke supports ridesharing.

Assembly Democratic Majority Leader Joe Morelle also supports Upstate ridesharing and may take the lead getting the legislation through his chamber.

Uber leads the charge to legalize Upstate ridesharing and has rolled out a seven-figure ad buy in Upstate markets. In Rochester, Mayor Lovely Warren, County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo, the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, and some nonprofits have come out in support of ridesharing.

But ridesharing operators such as Uber and Lyft need a fundamental fix in state insurance law before they can operate Upstate. Basically, they need group policies to cover drivers while they're carrying fares, since drivers' personal auto policies won't. Uber insures each driver for $1 million.

Regulatory questions need to be addressed, too, such as what driver background checks will look like and how drivers' employment status will be determined. The companies want a statewide regulatory system, but taxis and other livery services are regulated on a city-by-city basis.

Morelle could not be reached for comment last week, but in the past he's said that taxis and ridesharing services should compete on a level field; he's floated the idea of a single statewide system to regulate both.

Taxi groups say that companies such Uber and Lyft underpay drivers and undercut their industry. (Both companies currently operate at a substantial loss.)

Some people with vision, hearing, and seizure conditions back ridesharing as a convenient and effective transportation solution. But in communities with ridesharing services, drivers often pass up passengers who use wheelchairs or have service animals, says Ericka Jones, systems advocate with the Center for Disability Rights.

CDR wants commitments from ridesharing companies that at least 10 percent to 20 percent of their in-service vehicles will be wheelchair accessible; accessibility is already a problem with Rochester taxis, Jones says. CDR wants Warren, Dinolfo, and other elected leaders to withhold their support until that happens.

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