State

New York State Assembly bill could legalize ride-hailing services in upstate New York as early as this summer

Emmy Gnat | Head Illustrator

New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled his own ride-hailing services expansion plan during his State of State tour earlier this year, while the New York State Senate passed its own bill in February.

UPDATED: March 27, 2017 at 9:30 p.m.

A New York State Assembly bill currently under consideration could allow ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft to operate in the upstate New York area — potentially as early as this summer.

Assemblyman Kevin Cahill (D-NY) along with 20 co-sponsors, introduced the Assembly bill, A.06661, on March 10. New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled his own ride-hailing services expansion plan during his State of State tour earlier this year, while the New York State Senate passed its own bill in February.

The key difference between the Assembly legislation, the Senate’s bill and Cuomo’s plan is that the Assembly legislation gives local municipalities more control over regulating ride-hailing services, Cahill said.

By giving authority to local communities, Cahill said communities can make their own decision on the necessity of introducing ride-haling services into their transportation systems. If a community wants to attract ride-hailing services, for example, it may create less regulation at its own discretion.

The Senate’s bill, on the other hand, would establish a statewide ride-hailing regulatory framework.

Assemblyman John McDonald III (D-NY), co-sponsor of the bill, said the Assembly’s bill is merely a statement of interest. The Senate, the Assembly and governor need to negotiate on making one final bill that would legalize ride-hailing services upstate. That would need to be approved and included in the governor’s budget, which is due on April 1. If that process works out, ride-hailing services could begin to operate in upstate New York on July 1, McDonald said.

In June 2016, the Senate passed legislation that would have brought ride-hailing services to upstate New York, but debates over ride-hailing insurance policies stalled the bill in the Assembly.

“I think we all understand that this is a new technology that is something that our constituents would like to see available to them, so I think we are just trying to get there and put things that we think important in the bill,” said Assemblyman Bill Magnarelli (D-NY), another co-sponsor of the Assembly bill, who represents the University Hill and downtown Syracuse area.

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Like the most recently passed Senate bill, the current Assembly bill would establish a Transportation Network Company Accessibility Task Force that would provide workers’ compensation insurance for ride-hailing service drivers through the New York Black Car Operators’ Injury Compensation Fund, an injury compensation fund that gives benefits to drivers in New York City.

Both bills also require ride-hailing service companies conduct criminal background checks for drivers and develop and implement policies banning discrimination, while additionally enforcing zero-tolerance drug and alcohol policies and providing accessibility for people with disabilities.

Alexander Marion, a Syracuse city spokesman, did not respond to requests for comment on this story, though Mayor Stephanie Miner has previously voiced support for ride-hailing services. Justin Sayles, communications director for Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney, said in an email that Mahoney supports expanding ride-hailing to all of New York state.

“She is closely following the budget process for the final version of the legislation to emerge,” Sayles said.

Magnarelli said he thinks there should be a rule on how ride-hailing services would operate at transportation centers, such as the Syracuse Hancock International Airport and the William F. Walsh Regional Transportation Center.

“I would like to make sure that the city has the right to determine where people can be picked up and let off in, for example, downtown Syracuse,” Magnarelli said.

Regarding taxes, the Senate bill holds ride-hailing service rides in upstate to a 2 percent tax — instead of the 4 percent state sales tax — while Cuomo’s proposal sets a 5.5 percent tax on rides. Cahill said the Assembly bill makes ride-hailing services subject to the same local and state sales taxes as limousine services, to make sure local governments receive a greater share in revenue from the taxes.

“A community should have the authority to weigh the option and then make it fit as they see fit,” he said. “ … We think it’s important that localities keep that traditional responsibility and authority.”

If the Assembly passes this bill, Cahill said the next step would be to find means of securing agreement with the Senate to streamline differences between the two bills. Since the Senate has already passed its bill and Cuomo has proposed his own plan on the matter, Cahill said he expects “fairly quick action.”

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have expressed their interests in the bill, he added.

“The way for us to get to the table to negotiate is to pass the bill,” Cahill said.

Assemblywoman Pamela Hunter (D-NY) — whose district covers the town of Salina, DeWitt, Onondaga, the village of East Syracuse, the Onondaga Nation Reservation and the Eastside and South Side of Syracuse — said bringing ride-hailing services to upstate would have four main benefits: create jobs, promote the tourism industry, provide new transportation and encourage public safety by reducing drunk driving.

“I believe we need to have ride-hailing services in upstate New York,” Hunter said. “It’s long overdue and a majority of New Yorkers want ride hailing services in every corner of the state, not just downstate.”

Considering current transportation options, Hunter said she anticipates there is enough room for ride-hailing services to be in the transportation market without putting taxi business owners out of business.

Ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft have been aggressively lobbying the state legislature to legalize the services in upstate New York. Uber spent $1.3 million in its lobbying activity while Lyft spent $250,000 as a whole in 2016, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The lobbying spending went up by 189 percent for Uber and 92 percent for Lyft, compared to 2015.

As the pending demolition of student popular bars Hungry Chuck’s and the Orange Crate Brewing Company looms, some bar owners have expressed their hope that SU students would more frequently head to downtown Syracuse for alternative bars and restaurants with the legalization of ride-hailing services upstate.

Legislators, however, expressed concern over recent media reports regarding Uber: a former engineer for the company’s sexual harassment allegation, a video of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick arguing with an Uber driver and The New York Times’ report revealing the company’s clandestine use of software to circumvent authorities regulating ride-hailing services. The Wall Street Journal also reported last week that the company is sending text messages and carrying out phone surveys in an attempt to dissuade drivers from unionizing.

On Sunday, Uber President Jeff Jones left the company after six months on the job.

Cahill said the company has a lot of work to do to become a responsible corporate citizen in the country.

“Uber in particular has used some questionable tactics to persuade, at least I can tell you firsthand, the New York State Legislature to support their position, including misstating facts, outright lying prevalence of Uber in the United States of America,” Cahill said. “ … It’s unfortunate that Uber has created this atmosphere where they are suggesting that state legislature is considering law to authorize them to do business. We are not.”

Cahill stressed the Assembly bill is simply looking to amend exiting transportation and insurance laws to accommodate the growing ride-hailing service industry to fit into communities.

Magnarelli said the legislation is designed to regulate ride-hailing services — not just singling out Uber — and sets “basic rules” that other transportation companies already have to abide to. The common talking point that ride-hailing services are apps and not transportation companies, so they don’t need to be regulated, is “not going to fly,” Magnarelli said.

“We are not trying to stop ride-sharing in upstate New York,” Magnarelli said. “The intent is to just to make sure that when you’re getting in the car you are going to be safe. That’s it. We’d love to have them come.”

CLARIFICATION: In a previous version of this post, the areas included in Assemblywoman Pamela Hunter’s district were unclear.

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