Uber bill before Senate committee, could progress this session

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Ridesharing service Uber said over the weekend they’re putting the brakes on services in Austin, Texas, after the legislature there approved a requirement fingerprinting drivers.

The regulation keeping Uber from operating in western New York isn’t about fingerprinting — it’s about insurance. And lawmakers say this could be the year to green light a bill paving the way for ridesharing services to operate beyond New York City.

As the legislative session got underway in Albany Monday, among the items drawing elevated interest was a proposal to allow Uber and other ridesharing services to operate beyond New York City.

UB senior Anthony Louis said he’s hopeful to take advantage of its services like Uber if he decides to stay in WNY after graduation.

“Having a simple app, and app friendly technology to say where I am … and I can be here in five minutes, it’s the simplicity of that,” Louis said. “I think it’s changing with the times. Students don’t want to call taxi cabs anymore.”

The proposal before the Senate’s insurance committee would allow drivers of ridesharing services to be exempt from carrying their own insurance, using their  company’s instead.

And while a similar bill failed to see any traction in Albany last year, the light could be changing this summer.

“I do think that it’s different than last year,” said Sen. Patrick Gallivan, R-Elma. “I think there’s increased popularity. Many of us, myself included, are hearing from their constituents who are demanding that we do something about this. So I think our obligation is to look at the issue.”

A poll released last week shows the same. More than 75 percent of residents living upstate said they think it would increase convenience and be a boon to the economy.

In addition to supporters, those opposed to ride sharing services are taking notice, too, launching campaigns “Who’s Driving You” to call companies like Uber into question.

Gallivan said safety should be an issue in the debate moving forward.

“We want to make sure that people are indeed, safe, that there is some vetting of people that are offering rides to others,” he said.

UB junior George Beckstein has never used a ridesharing service. But he said he realizes its popularity among fellow students.

“Parking on UB’s campus is sometimes a challenge,” he said. “So having something that would alleviate that might be good around here.”

Uber representatives said Monday they were hopeful of a decision in Albany going their way.

“It is crystal clear that New Yorkers want regulated ridesharing services like Uber in their communities – whether it’s potential drivers who want better economic opportunities or riders who need more transportation options,” said Uber representative Alix Anfang. “We will do whatever it takes to ensure that Albany leaders hear the voices of their constituents over those of taxi special interests.”

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