Uber, a ride-sharing app that started off as a luxury car service in 2009, is looking to expand its reach in New York, including into Westchester.
The service has become a wildly popular method for getting around New York City. Uber uses an app to match riders with drivers, arrange payment, and set a predetermined pick up location. The program is currently available in more than 35 cities nationwide, but is currently unauthorized to operate anywhere in Upstate New York.
To be allowed to operate in other parts of the state, Uber and similar ride-sharing services, such as Lyft, would have to follow for-hire vehicle regulations like taxis and livery cabs. These regulations would require them to pay licensing fees and vehicle permits, in addition to attaining mandated insurance coverage.
The company has begun to lobby for a change in legislation, petitioning for statewide regulations specifically directed toward ride-sharing companies. Supporters argue that separate, uniform regulations for ride-sharing programs throughout the state will allow Uber and other similar companies to expand and facilitate millions of dollars in economic growth within the next few years. According to a recent report published by Uber, if the company is allowed to operate under a peer-to-peer or ride-sharing model, more than 13,000 New York drivers outside of the city will have the potential to earn $80 million in net fares within the first year.
The petition—which asks people to “Bring Uber To New York State”—surpassed its original goal of 25,000 signatures and has since upped it to 40,000.
Now, Uber is not currently shut completely out of Westchester. Drivers can legally operate in the county, so long as the ride begins or ends in New York City. To provide rides solely within Westchester, however, drivers would have to acquire an official license from the county. According to The Journal News, Westchester has issued nearly 1,000 tickets to Uber drivers who have failed to comply with this policy.
However, taxi and livery cab drivers throughout New York have some concerns with allowing the ride-sharing services to grow within the state.
Without the same regulations and fees, taxi and livery cab companies throughout New York say they fear these app-based ride-sharing programs may run them out of business.
To address these concerns, a roundtable was organized in Albany to provide state representatives, Uber, taxi companies, and other various transportation groups to discuss the matter.
“An Albany resident or a Buffalo resident deserves just as much protection as a New York City resident,” said Avik Kabessa, chairman of the New York State Livery Fund Benefit, who was against special regulations for ride-sharing companies, according to Politico New York.
Mark Ilacqua, president of Suburban Transportation in Syracuse, claims that ride-sharing programs could put him out of business if not regulated properly. “All we’re asking for is a fair playing field,” he said.
On the other hand, Joseph Okpaku, director of public policy at Lyft, said, “We’re actually not seeking to be unregulated. We’re seeking regulations that are appropriate to this model.”
The state Legislature returns to Albany in January. Uber’s lobbying push is expected to continue in the meantime, including plans for stops at other upstate cities.