After Two Years of Efforts to Bring Uber Upstate, 2017 May be the Year It Happens
–by Karianne Polimeni
Ben Axelton, Cuomo to Reveal Plan to bring Uber, Lyft to Upstate New York, New York Upstate, (Jan. 8, 2017, 11:23 AM), http://www.newyorkupstate.com/news/2017/01/cuomo_to_reveal_plan_to_bring_uber_lyft_to_upstate_new_york.html; Kevin B. Knott, The Facts Behind Buffalo’s Uber Situation, The Buffalo Scene (2016), http://thebuffaloscene.com/2016/08/22/buffalos-uber-situation/; Jack O’Brien, Uber’s Fight for New York, The Legislative Gazette, (Dec. 27, 2016), http://legislativegazette.com/archives/4182; Jared Meyer, New York’s Dumb War on Uber, Reason.com, (Jan. 11,2017), http://reason.com/archives/2017/01/11/new-yorks-dumb-war-on-uber.
Abstract: Since Uber’s launch in 2014, New York State citizens have been pushing for Uber to be allowed in New York. Despite Assembly opposition, Uber has made its way to New York City and has been nothing but successful. Now, Upstate New York citizens are left wondering when the rest of the state will be allowed to enjoy the cheap, safe ride-sharing company the rest of the nation and even people overseas have come to love.
Since its launch in 2014, Uber has done nothing but grow. As of today, Uber operates in 45 states and has even expanded rapidly overseas. Although allowed in New York City, Uber has yet to make its way to the rest of New York State (“NYS”). This is not for lack of trying or for lack of demand. This past Thanksgiving-eve alone, more than 40,000 people in Upstate New York launched their Uber app only to find that it does not exist anywhere in the state other than New York City.
Starting in early 2015, there has been a huge push to get Uber and Lyft into Upstate New York. With its demand growing every day, many senators and representatives have been overwhelmed by the letters, phone calls, and petitions that end up on their desks daily from NYS citizens. Citizens are not the only ones pushing for its expansion. In 2016 alone, Uber spent over $750,000 lobbying for its allowance in NYS. In addition, Uber has even teamed up with the Buffalo Bills and the Buffalo Sabres for special rates on transportation to and from games, and free rides for players on the teams. Currently, Buffalo is the largest city in the nation without Uber or Lyft operating in it and is the only city with an NFL team without it. In fact, Buffalo is one of the five largest cities in the world that does not have Uber or Lyft operating within it. In Buffalo alone, more than 2,000 people launch the app daily. Statewide, 60,000 people try to use the app daily.
Governor Andrew Cuomo is even behind the efforts. “Uber is one of these great inventions, startups, of this new economy and it’s taking off like fire to dry grass and it’s giving people jobs. I don’t think the government should be in the business of trying to restrict job growth.” Bringing Uber to the rest of NYS would create an estimated 13,000 jobs. Many worry, however, that these jobs would be at the cost of other jobs, such as taxi drivers or those in other transportations services. This worry is one of the reasons why there is opposition to its expansion.
Another reason it has yet to expand to Upstate NY is that many want every driver to submit to a fingerprint background check. NYS Senate Bill S4108D made its way through the Senate, but stopped in the Assembly, with this being one of the major cited reasons for its opposition. If the Assembly were to get its way and mandate fingerprint background checks for every driver, it would be the only state in the nation to do so. With safety being the Assembly’s concern, many are worried that a regular background check is not enough. Opponents to the fingerprint background check acknowledge the Assembly’s concerns, but point out that fingerprint background checks are only as good as the company that updates them–citing cases where DUI’s and other traffic safety violations often do not show up on the check. Further, they point out, many of the few safety issues that have occurred through ride-sharing companies come from someone posing as a driver, and not an actual hired driver.
Insurance is another reason for its opposition. Having a ride-sharing company in NYS would require a certain group insurance policy that NYS does not currently have. Insurance companies have lobbied with taxi companies in opposition to Uber expanding to the rest of NYS because of it. In light of this opposition, the Assembly has proposed its own bill (A08195) that would require the insurance increase to come from the Uber Drivers. Uber claims that this increase in insurance would make the expansion impossible for its company, so this bill, too, has been halted.
Despite all of the bumps in the road, many are hopeful that Uber will make its way to the rest of New York soon. In 2017, Governor Cuomo has addressed the issue at his State of the State Address and says he has a plan in the works. “It defies logic that ride-sharing isn’t available to New Yorkers who live outside of New York City. My message is Upstate New York matters and it’s not right or fair that Upstate doesn’t have this new innovation that spurs the economy, can save money and save lives.”