Editorial: No more waiting on ride-sharing

We're so close. Let's get it done.

The state Senate has brought us closer to allowing ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft to operate in upstate New York.

The Assembly must now move quickly to finish the job.

Senators, by a bipartisan vote of 53-5, earlier this week passed a bill (S4159) that addresses all the major concerns people might have about allowing the services to operate in New York.

The bill is similar to one proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in his executive budget, only with a lower tax collection proposal.

Ride sharing involves customers using phone apps to hail a ride from a driver working for one of these companies.

The practice is allowed in 47 states and many big cities, including New York City. But New York state lawmakers have been reluctant to approve it for the rest of the state.

Supporters say it help cities like Schenectady and Albany, where existent taxicab service is often sporadic, unreliable and unpleasant.

The ride-sharing service, they say, would allow local residents and college students who might not have cars to get around town for errands and entertainment. Others say it would help local economies by making it easier and more convenient for patrons of venues like the new Rivers casino and other businesses to access downtown retailers and hospitality businesses.

Supporters of ride-sharing in the Assembly like Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara rightly argue that the state shouldn’t set conditions to such a degree that they take away ride-sharing’s greatest features — availability and low cost.

The Senate bill is a solid start.

It establishes background checks for drivers, including criminal activity and driving records, to help ensure the safety of passengers. It addresses disability access through creation of a task force. It sets insurance coverage levels equal to or greater than other states’ levels — $50,000/$100,000 coverage for drivers as they wait to pick up passengers and $1 million from call-receipt to drop-off. It sets up a reasonable level of taxation to support public transportation. And it has zero-tolerance for alcohol, drugs and sex offenders.

The Assembly in the past has balked at the level of insurance required. And the taxicab companies have called for fingerprinting of drivers. And some say it shouldn’t be taxed at all, as communities will benefit from the economic development it generates and taxes on gas and maintenance. Local control also might be included in an Assembly version.

The insurance levels set in Senate and governor’s bills are routine and should be adequate to at least get the bill moving. The state should command some tax revenue, but not so much that it drives up prices. The 2 percent in the Senate bill is a reasonable middle ground. And while the Senate and governor’s version have the state regulating the industry to ensure uniform regulations statewide, there should be a mechanism added for county governments to impose additional controls based on their own particular local circumstances.

The Assembly shouldn’t wait for its budget presentation to submit a proposal. That could take until March or April. Introduce a standalone bill now and get direct talks moving.

New Yorkers have waited long enough for ride-sharing. We’re so close. Let’s get it done.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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