Council determines “ridesharing” company is operating illegally

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – “Ridesharing” services are becoming a popular concept in the country’s larger metropolitan areas, but they have also been hit with several lawsuits. Last month, Lyft rolled out in Upstate New York and met stiff resistance in Buffalo.

On Tuesday, the company defended itself during a Common Council Community Development meeting in Buffalo City Hall. Supporters of the San Francisco-based company also came out to the first public hearing on whether the city should license the “ridesharing” service.

Lyft vehicles have funny pink mustaches on the front. The service uses social media or its smartphone app to match people up that have empty seats in their cars with people that are looking for a ride. Passengers donate a suggested amount rather than paying a fare.

Bailey, a driver who picks up a lot of college students, said, “They love Lyft here in Buffalo,because they are not waiting for a bus and you are not waiting for the Metro.”

Todd Salansky has used the “ridesharing” service before and said, “I actually took several rides with one Lyft driver who is a taxi proprietor, and he left the taxi proprietorship because Lyft was better for his life.”

Edward Betz, an attorney for Lyft, says the service is different from taxis and limos because “there is no obligation to pay any fare to anyone. In fact, to make a donation to your driver is entirely optional, and at the close of a ride, there is no obligation for the person you just shared a car with to give you any money.”

But a spokesman for the taxi and limousine operators say if the driver accepts anything at anytime, he or she becomes a driver-for-hire under state law.

Kevin Barwell of Limousine, Bus, Taxi Operators of Upstate NY said, “They also fall under the city ordinance as a “for hire” and are required to have the proper insurance, the proper registration, and license, and this is from the Department of Motor Vehicles stance on this.”

The city’s chief of inspections and permits agrees.

Patrick Sole added, “The individuals themselves that are providing the rides for compensation are acting as, what we would define in the city, as a livery vehicle.”

That means Lyft drivers are proceeding at their own peril in Buffalo.

North District Councilman Joseph Golombek said, “I think that as of right now, the way that the law is written, it is my understanding that they are operating illegally in the City of Buffalo.”

Golombek says that means Buffalo Police could ticket Lyft drivers, issue summonses or even impound their cars. He plans to bring all the sides together to find some kind of common ground, beginning next week.

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