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Uber, Lyft start rolling in upstate New York

Legalization was lengthy process
A driver for Uber and Lyft in Los Angeles.
A driver for Uber and Lyft in Los Angeles.

So … who wants a ride?

A new option for getting from point A to point B became legal in upstate New York at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, as one of the few areas left in America without ride sharing opened to the popular practice.

State officials on Wednesday announced that two of the biggest ride-sharing networks, Uber and Lyft, had completed their approval procedures and would be able to operate upstate starting today.

The potential of on-demand rides from an army of drivers in private vehicles summoned and paid through smartphones has long been appreciated, and sought by the business community.

Legalization was a lengthy process for the Legislature; approval was an expensive process for Lyft and Uber, as each had to pay a $100,000 application fee.

But the process of actually getting a ride will be a lot quicker and simpler: Download the Uber or Lyft app on a smartphone; sign up and add a payment method; request a ride; get connected with a nearby driver; get picked up for the ride; pay via an automated deduction through the smartphone; step out at the destination.

The only hitch for the riding public will be if they want to go somewhere and there isn’t a driver on duty nearby. Both Uber and Lyft have been preparing for the rollout, however, with months of recruiting sessions across the state.

The state Department of Motor Vehicles on Wednesday said more than 20,000 drivers are signed up by Uber and Lyft to begin giving rides Thursday upstate and on Long Island, the two new service areas. (Ride sharing already was legal in New York City.)

The rollout date was pushed forward 10 days, so that ride sharing would be in place by this weekend, when early Fourth of July celebrations will start.

Lyft said Wednesday it was planning to launch at 1 a.m. Thursday; Uber said it would host a ceremonial kickoff at 1 p.m. at Quackenbush Square in Albany, attended by some of the restaurateurs, business officials and area politicians who had pressed for legalization of ride sharing upstate.

The two companies issued effusive statements Wednesday as the countdown went to single digits.

“We are grateful for the warm welcome we have already received in communities across New York state,” said Jaime Raczka, regional director of new markets for Lyft. “Lyft acts as a tremendous resource for every community it operates in — getting people to where they need to be safely, stimulating local economies, reducing C02 emissions and supporting families with extra income.  We thank every New York state resident who fought hard for access to Lyft, and we look forward to becoming New York’s ridesharing platform of choice.”

Said Uber spokeswoman Alix Anfang: “Hey, Schenectady — your Uber is arriving now! New Yorkers have been demanding ridesharing in their communities for years and our state leaders have delivered, ensuring that starting this holiday weekend, residents and visitors will always have an affordable, reliable ride.”

DMV Executive Deputy Commissioner Terri Egan said in a news release that “ride sharing will enhance safety on our roads, open new economic opportunities for New York’s small businesses and enable thousands of New Yorkers to earn extra income.”

The DMV earlier this month enacted multiple regulations to govern ride sharing upstate.

Of interest to ride-sharing passengers:

  • The exact or estimated fare must be provided on the smartphone app before the ride begins.
  • The app must display the driver’s photo.
  • The app must also display the vehicle’s make, model, color and license plate number.
  • The vehicle must display the company logo on its windshield.
  • The company’s complaint process must be accessible through its app.

Of interest to ride-sharing drivers:

  • Prospective drivers must pass a criminal background check and review of their driving record.
  • They must be at least 19 years old.
  • They must hold a valid New York state driver’s license.
  • Vehicle standards will be set by their employer, not by the state.

Of interest to Uber and Lyft:

  • Companies must provide $1.25 million in liability insurance for vehicles driven in their service.
  • Companies must provide workers’ compensation coverage.
  • Companies must adopt anti-discrimination policies protecting their customers.
  • Companies must pay the state an annual $60,000 renewal fee.
  • Companies must enroll drivers in the DMV notification system, which reports traffic violations and other problems with drivers.

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