Uber To Challenge New York Law

In order to expand in New York, Uber and Lyft must overcome a decades-old law that bars private transportation network companies.

by Lindsay Ellis, Times Union, Albany, N.Y. / October 21, 2015
AP

(TNS) -- On the state Capitol's 118-year-old Million Dollar Staircase, Uber Technologies Inc. and state lawmakers painted a picture of a region slipping behind in the sharing economy because New York state law does not permit transportation network companies.

Uber anticipates that expanding ride-sharing outside of New York City could bring 13,000 jobs to upstate, including 700 in Albany and Rensselaer counties, Uber New York General Manager Josh Mohrer said at a Tuesday news conference. Uber's smartphone application links ride-seekers with drivers who use their own vehicles to transport customers for the company.

But for Uber to expand upstate, state legislation must account for transportation companies like Uber and Lyft Inc. in insurance law, vehicle and traffic law, general municipal law and transportation law. A proposal for this legislation was referred to committee last spring.

Uber's projections show drivers earning a slight income boost of $6,150 as the company said total earning potential is $80 million in the first year of operation upstate. Drivers pay a portion of their earnings to Uber and are responsible for car costs, Mohrer said.

He said driving for Uber would not necessarily be a full-time position; drivers can work as much as they want each week.

At the news conference, Mohrer was joined by state lawmakers, Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple, business owners, area representatives and residents.

They said ride-sharing would allow for options in transportation, reduce drunken driving and create a positive first impression for tourists when they arrive at the Albany-Rensselaer train station.

"You only get one shot to prove that you're open to visitors," said Assemblyman John McDonald III, whose district covers parts of Albany, Rensselaer and Saratoga counties.

Troy restaurant owner Vic Christopher contrasted Uber with area taxi services, which he characterized as expensive and unethical.

But Bethlehem Democrat State Sen. Neil Breslin said Uber would be "filling a void that exists," not replacing other transportation jobs.

George Deutsch, president of Advantage Transit Group, which owns Albany Yellow Cab, said the company is introducing a smartphone application that could also link drivers and passengers. He also spoke of attempts to raise service standards in uniforms and requiring GPS systems in every vehicle.

But he said he did not think that Albany held a large market for ride-sharing companies like Uber. While mornings and afternoons are busy for his 40 drivers, who are independent contractors, large stretches of time in between are tough to fill with clients, he said.

Deutsch said a wider decline of drivers in the area is a potential hurdle for ride-sharing companies.

"People don't wake up anymore and say I wish I could be a cabdriver," he said.

A Wednesday closed-door roundtable in Albany, the second meeting this week in the state, will focus on state insurance law.

At the Monday meeting in New York City, Avik Kabessa, the CEO of Carmel Car Service and a board member of the Livery Roundtable, said he expressed safety concerns with the legislation as written.

He argued transportation network companies should not be allowed to regulate their own safety standards, he said.

Accessibility advocates also voiced their concerns this week.

James Weisman, president of the United Spinal Association, asked lawmakers to require Uber vehicles to be 100 percent wheelchair-accessible.

Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, D-Ulster, introduced two bills on ride-sharing to the state Assembly. He characterized Monday's roundtable in New York City as "extremely respectful." Conversations ranged from specific insurance law concerns to philosophical questions of whether the state should disrupt a 100-year-old industry.

"I don't think we made any converts at the table but I think everyone felt they could get a fair airing of their point of view," Cahill said in an interview Tuesday.

©2015 the Times Union (Albany, N.Y.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.