—by S. Alex Berlucchi
Sources: S.B. 4280, 238th S. Sess., 2015-2016 Reg. Sess. (N.Y. 2016); Mike McAndrew, Senate Passes Uber in Upstate NY Bill, but Assembly Expected to Balk, Syracuse.com, 1, 1 (June 17, 2016) http://www.syracuse.com/state/index.ssf/2016/06/senate_passes_uber_in_upstate_ny_bill_but_assemby_expected_to_balk.html
Abstract: The New York State Senate passed a bill to allow “transportation network companies,” such as Uber and Lyft, to operate in areas of New York State outside of New York City. Presently, concerns for the safety of the passengers and the insurance requirements for the drivers are causing debate within both the Senate and the Assembly. While this bill passed in the Senate, it is not likely to pass in the Assembly. Facing political pressure from Governor Andrew Cuomo, a resolution to the prohibition of ride-booking companies is imminent.
The New York State Senate passed a bill allowing “transportation network companies” such as Uber and Lyft, to operate in New York State. Currently, these companies are only legally allowed to operate in New York City. Ride-booking companies received an exception to operate in New York City, and the convenient, trend-setting ride services are advocated as an improved means of public transportation. While this bill did pass in the Senate, the Assembly is reluctant to follow suit.
Senator James Seward (R-Oneonta) sponsored New York Senate Bill 4280, which passed in the Senate Insurance Committee. The bill would require a minimum of one million dollars in liability coverage whenever a drive has a “paid passenger in their personal vehicle.” When there are no riders, the Bill similarly mandates minimum coverage, totaling $200,000. This minimum is higher than the minimum insurance requirements for taxi cab drivers in local municipalities, such as Utica, thus demonstrating an effort to maintain the current taxi cab industry while allowing “transportation network companies” to spread to other cities in New York. Furthermore, this Bill allows for local control over all other issues, such as accessibility and requirements to act as an independent contractor.
This bill passed, in the Senate, despite strong opposition from the traditional taxi cab and limousine industry. Similar to protests seen in New York City, allowing ride-booking companies to operate in cities such as Syracuse, Buffalo, and Rochester will have a detrimental effect on the cab industries in these respective localities. For example, currently only 200 taxi cab licenses are issued, and all 200 are currently taken. An influx of transportation options may lead to increased litigation with the taxi cab industry; however, there are two issues with the Bill as presently written.
The first issue is a lack access to “transportation network companies” for individuals with disabilities. Presently, of the 30,000 independent contracts operating in New York City, there are zero vehicles which are wheelchair accessible. This will be an issue for passing a law in New York, as the Assembly has placed an emphasis on handicap accessibility, as well as safety of the passengers.
In the Assembly, the parallel bill to New York Senate Bill 4280 includes higher mandatory minimum levels of insurance coverage. There is also an express need to perform background checks on the drivers, in the interest of public safety, and a mandate for handicap accessibility. These provisions were not included in the Senate version of the Bill. Therefore, the Assembly is unlikely to resolve these issues.
This conversation began in the New York State Legislature more than one year ago. Gov. Andrew Cuomo spoke to the positive aspects of ridesharing, or ride-booking, as a rapidly expanding business. As a growing aspect of the technology industry, these “digital networks” provide a valuable service both to citizens of New York, and tourists who may be visiting.
Despite the benefit, the State Legislature is divided on the interests of public safety, and the autonomy provided to local governments will still be a barrier in allowing “transportation network companies” to operate. The Assembly is not likely to pass the current bill as it is written. In addition, while the Senate focused on insurance minimums to pass the Bill, the Assembly will need to resolve more issues before proposing a Bill which may be duly considered. Based on the public response, this discussion is unlikely to resolve itself during the current session.