AMSTERDAM - The Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York has announced a pilot program to offer free Uber rides to need-qualified clients in Fulton, Montgomery and Schoharie counties.
LASNNY Executive Director Lillian Moy said the grand opening of the organization's new location at 6 Market St. in Amsterdam Thursday provided the perfect time and location to announce the free transportation pilot program. She said the Amsterdam office will service income-qualified clients in Fulton, Montgomery and Schoharie counties.
"We wondered how our low-income clients get to court or to an administrative hearing if they don't have transportation," Moy said. "And we thought Amsterdam would be a good place to try this experiment."
The city of Amsterdam shuttered its transit department in 2018, eliminating some of the low-cost transportation available to people without a car.
Moy said the free-ride program could also be a boon to people in more rural parts of Fulton, Montgomery and Schoharie counties.
"Geographic isolation is one of the greatest challenges of someone living in a rural county," Moy said. "So, if you're a person having a problem and you get it together to call legal aide, that doesn't mean you can get to legal aide -- or to get to court when you need to."
LASNNY is a nonprofit organization that provides free legal services for civil cases for income-qualified clients in 16 counties from the Catskill mountains to the Canadian border. The organization has an annual budget of about $10.9 million, much of funded through state and local grants, and served 27,484 low-income people in 2017, helping to close 9,149 legal cases.
Erica Ludwick, the managing attorney for LASNNY's Amsterdam office, said her branch of the organization has operated out of 1 Kimball St. for the last 10 years, a building occupied by Catholic Charities of Fulton and Montgomery Counties. She said in 2018 the Amsterdam LASNNY office handled 1,866 cases benefitting 3,919 people.
In 2018 the types of cases handled by Amsterdam LASNNY broke down as follows:
• 35.4 percent of cases were "income maintenance cases", specifically dealing with welfare and disability benefit eligibility;
• 25.8 percent of cases were housing related, including foreclosures;
• 23 percent of cases were family-law related;
• 5.7 percent were consumer law involved cases;
• 1 percent each were juvenile law, education law, healthcare law and individual rights law cases; and
• 5.4 percent were miscellaneous legal cases.
Moy said LASNNY will first determine whether a client has a car, and then whether or not any other funding stream exists to help the person with a ride, but if they don't and there isn't, LASNNY will hook the person up with an Uber.
"We have an Uber business account, so what we'll do is when we have identified a client that needs the ride service we'll order the ride and that will pick up the client and bring them to the predetermined location," Ludwick said.
Ludwick said LASNNY hasn't determined yet how the "rating system" used by Uber passengers and drivers will work in terms of the transportation of LASNNY clients. she said she expects there will only be a small pool of potential Uber drivers between the three counties.
Moy said the pilot free ride program was made possible by a $2,000 grant from LASNNY's treasurer Victor Mazzotti, a partner in the Martin Harding & Mazzotti law firm. She said the program will last until the funding runs out, but if its deemed successful LASNNY may attempt to replicate it in other offices, which currently include two locations in Albany and offices in Saratoga Springs, Canton and Plattsburgh.