February 2, 2016

Ithacans Petition for Uber’s Entry to Upstate N.Y.

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Although ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft have been restricted from New York State due to the New York State Insurance Law, nearly 2,000 people have signed an online petition pushing to pass a bill that would allow ridesharing services to operate in upstate New York.

Although similar action has failed previously, upstate New Yorkers and Uber are both pushing hard to pass New York State Legislative Bill A6090, which would establish, regulate and provide proper insurance for transportation network companies and drivers, according to the New York State Assembly.

Currently, ride-sharing services in New York state are only allowed to operate in New York City and the surrounding area.

Ithaca officials are not against Uber coming to the area as long as state or local regulations ensure inspections and insurance on drivers and vehicles, according to city clerk Julie Holcomb.

“We believe that people should have a choice of transportation providers,” Holcomb said. “We just want to ensure that the public safety standards are applicable across the board so that Uber, Lyft or other providers meet the same criteria as our local taxicab companies.”

Holcomb added that the City of Ithaca is holding off on any related legislation until Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) decides on a state-level plan of action.

Moreover, Ithaca taxi services said they welcome Uber and Lyft if policy change ensures they are compliant with local taxi laws.

“Uber’s current business model allows them to sidestep costly taxi insurance policies and procedures for obtaining taxi licenses,” said Paul Kriegstein, owner of Collegetown Cab.

If Uber is willing to modify parts of how the service works, however, a future in Ithaca could potentially be viable.

“Cab companies, and fortunately some regulatory officials, believe in a reasonably fair field of competition and appear to acknowledge that upstate cab companies will be at a major cost disadvantage in addition to a driver-recruiting disadvantage against Uber,” Kriegstein said.

John Kadar, president of Ithaca Dispatch, also said he hopes that such a policy would allow taxi services to hire part-time drivers with their own cars.

“This would be at cheaper employment rates than costly taxicab premiums while still maintaining the same standards of safety and responsibility to drivers and customers,” Kadar said.

Still, some local taxi owners are still apprehensive that ridesharing services might be a public safety risk.

According to Kadar, the fact that Uber and Lyft are minimally regulated and do not incur the costs that burden effective taxicab operation bring up safety issues for passengers.

“The result is a service preferred by consumers who are oblivious to matters of personal safety,” Kadar said. “Not a week goes by without news about a rape or assault committed by an Uber or Lyft driver.”

Despite the potential safety risks, many Cornell students remain in favor of Uber’s arrival.

“I think it’d be a mutually beneficial both for patrons and as well as drivers,” Eric Chen ’19 said. “Drivers would be students looking to make a couple extra bucks and patrons could be students simply trying to get home in Ithaca’s brutal winters.”

Anya Skor ’18 agreed and said that in addition to convenience, Uber could potentially be a safer mode of transportation at night.

“Uber would be a safe, easier alternative to walking home in the cold after a long night out in Collegetown,” Skor said.

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