Lyft hits the brakes in Buffalo, “Lyfts off” in NYC

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Lyft’s ride sharing venture into New York has hit a red light in Buffalo and Rochester, but got a green light by state regulators to hit the streets of New York City, beginning Friday night.

Company officials reached an agreement with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and the state Department of Financial Services allowing Lyft to launch in the Big Apple, while the company has agreed to suspend its operations in the two upstate cities by August 1.

Rory Allen, owner of downtown business ZoomCopy.com, is among the many enthusiastic fans Lyft has generated in its short time in Buffalo.

“I have probably taken Lyft somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 or 12 times in the last few months, and every time it has always been an A plus experience.”

Now Allen is disappointed that Lyft is suspending operations in Buffalo, and bristled when recalling his pregnant wife taking a cab at 6:00 in the morning, recently. Allen said the cab driver was rude and inconsiderate.

“He is smoking a cigarette, he’s got the window down, he is blasting music on a ride to the airport. Altogether, she got a really bad feeling from it.”

While Lyft promotes its business as a ride sharing service, the San Francisco-based company agreed to hire commercial drivers for its launch in New York City, with state approved insurance, and meet all of New York City’s regulations that apply to “for hire” drivers and cars.

The ride-sharing service’s self-imposed suspension in Buffalo and Rochester will last until it complies with state and city “for hire” regulations.

That’s welcome news for Bill Yuhnke, president of Liberty Cab in Buffalo.

“We only asked from the very beginning to be put on a level playing field. Somebody finally realized, this is what you have to do in New York State.”

Yuhnke said the biggest issue for Buffalo’s taxi operators, and city lawmakers, was customer safety, and that comes down to proper insurance.

“Pay the commercial insurance, get the driver’s background checked, and get proper licensed by your local authority.”

Common Council member Joe Golombek said he wants to assemble a special committee to look into the Lyft issue.

“Once New York State allows them, or states that they are legal, then we can put this commission together to try to come up with a way to allow them to work in the City of Buffalo.”

The North District council member thinks an overhaul of the city’s “for hire” regulations might set the stage for Lyft’s return.

“Right now we have taxis and we have liveries. There has been talk about making limousines a third group, and maybe Lyft will wind up being a fourth group. We are going to take a look at what they are doing in other cities.”

A spokesman for Mayor Byron Brown said the city is in negotiations right now with Lyft representatives, but if the Common Council has to change city regulations to permit Lyft to re-enter Buffalo, it will have to wait. The Council is in recess until September.

Lyft issued a written statement, calling the agreement “positive progress with local and state leaders.”

The statement says, “Lyft will pause operations in Buffalo and Rochester, by August 1st” while working with state officials “to align New York State’s insurance laws and regulations with emerging technologies of the 21st century.”

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