You would be forgiven for assuming New York state lawmakers are waging a war on innovation. After all, over the past year, the Legislature has actively stifled ridesharing and criminalized half of Airbnb’s rentals. Albany, it seems, is unwavering in its quest to keep the sharing economy out of the Empire State.
All of this could change, however, if only the Assembly were willing to put passengers over politics.
Albany has been given a second chance to bring ridesharing to upstate New York. For the second straight year, the Senate has passed a bill that would allow companies like Uber and Lyft to expand outside of New York City. And, for the second straight year, the fate of the bill rests in the Assembly’s hands.
Last year, the effort to expand ride-sharing broke down over disagreements about fingerprinting requirements, insurance coverage and access for passengers with disabilities. Safety, we are told, is why residents of upstate New York are denied the convenience of Uber and Lyft.
John Tomassi, president of the Upstate Transportation Association, has argued that if the Senate refused to force on Uber the same draconian measures that pushed Uber out of Austin, Texas, and nearly ended ride-sharing in Maryland it would show carelessness toward riders’ safety.
State Sen. Marc Panepinto, who represents the Buffalo area, claimed his refusal to support last year’s effort to legalize ride-sharing was due to concerns about passenger safety as well.
But this is simply a pretext for protecting the stranglehold that existing taxi and livery companies have on transportation services across the state.
Indeed, the campaign against ride-sharing isn’t about safety at all. If it were truly about safety, the Assembly might have taxis in its crosshairs. As a recent Post report found, nearly a third of all New York City taxis inspected last year failed.
New York City isn’t alone. The disintegration of the safety and quality of taxis across the country should be concerning to anyone looking to get a ride across town — and, thanks to the Legislature, residents of upstate New York have no other options.
Contrary to the claims levied against Uber and Lyft, ride-sharing companies provide a safer product than existing transportation companies.
The 5-star rating system, for example, provides passengers with a direct line to companies when something goes wrong. GPS tracking allows passengers to feel safe throughout the entire ride. Governments across the country are recognizing that the background checks currently used by ride-sharing companies are sufficient.
But again, the war on ride-sharing has nothing to do with protecting passengers. It has everything to do with protecting politically influential jobs and businesses from the sharing economy’s disruption.
What will taxi drivers do when no one hails a cab anymore? That’s a valid question, but one that ignores people in need of flexible work or income.
What about that college student in Syracuse trying to make money in between classes? The retiree in Saratoga Springs trying to supplement his income when vacationers from all around the country come to town each summer?
Chasing away Uber, Lyft or Airbnb doesn’t just harm some faceless Silicon Valley company. It denies your neighbors — working people — the opportunities these platforms bring.
Cities like Newark, Akron, Ohio, and Scranton, Pa., have chosen the tech-friendly, innovative path. Shouldn’t Syracuse be allowed to do the same?
Refusing to join the 48 other states that have legalized ride-sharing, and continuing to bend to the taxi lobby, will only worsen the economic divide between upstate New York and the rest of the country.
Although what happens with ride-sharing in Albany is still uncertain, one thing is not: Upstate New York deserves better.