The status of ride-sharing in WNY

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Buffalo, N.Y.(WIVB)- The night before Thanksgiving is known as one of the biggest party nights of the year. While some people will be calling for a ride to or from the bars, they’ll be reminded ride-sharing apps are still not available in Upstate New York, including Buffalo.

People all over the country have been using ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft for years. Uber calls upstate New York the “final frontier” in their push to bring it to our area, but state lawmakers are still trying to agree on how to regulate it in upstate New York.

According to Uber, more than 1.5 million people in upstate New York have the Uber app, but aren’t able to use it. We found a lot of people wondering why.

“It was crazy to me to think we’re a big college town and to not having a ride-sharing program or anything like that was mind blowing to me,” David Dweck, a freshman at SUNY Buffalo State, said.”

“[People always ask] ‘where’s Uber? Where’s Uber? Why don’t you guys have Uber?’ And I’m like, ‘well we’re behind right now,’” John Osberg, Buffalo resident, said.
“I was actually shocked because Buffalo is a second city to New York City, so I was just surprised.” Shabana Davis, a senior at SUNY Buffalo State, said.

It’s a question even reaching the national level. Buffalo Bills player Leger Douzable recently tweeted, “We need Uber in Buffalo ASAP,” and “Governor, can we get this done?”

According to Uber, the company operates in close to 5—cities around the world and 47 states in the U.S. They even operate in New York City, but not in upstate New York.

“[People have] waited long enough and it’s time to get the bill done,” Senator James Seward, 51st Senate District, said.

Senator Sewad sponsored a Senate ride-sharing bill this year that he said is identical to bills passed in more than 30 other states. The Senate passed the bill this year, but the Assembly did not. Seward said the biggest difference between the two sides are disagreements over insurance coverage. He said the Assembly bill would have put higher insurance requirements in upstate New York, similar to what’s in place in New York City, which he said doesn’t work for the rest of the state.

“It’s a whole different market, so I don’t think imposing New York City based insurance requirements on upstate cities like Buffalo or Batavia…I don’t think that’s right,” Seward said.

Bill Yuhnke is the owner of Liberty Communications, a taxi company in Western New York. He said he’s not against ride-sharing companies like Uber coming to our area, but he wants them to follow the same rules he operates under.

“Our drivers have to be background checked. They have to go through the inspection of the vehicle. None of that is being done with a ride-sharing vehicle or driver,” Yuhnke said.

Yuhnke wants to propose the city mandate all drivers for-hire have mandatory background checks and fingerprinting. Upstate Transportation Association agrees. They released a statement that said, “If Uber really wants to expand upstate, it must finally agree to fingerprint background checks for all potential drivers. Uber drivers are already fingerprinted in New York City. Don’t upstate riders deserve to be safe too?”

We asked Uber for their response. They directed us to a letter written by former Attorney General Eric Holder. It said fingerprinting is not recommended outside law enforcement purposes. It also said, “A fingerprint-based check can prevent people from getting a job even if they were never found guilty of a crime.”

Uber recently re-launched its “Bring Uber to New York State” campaign. So far, more than 100,000 people have signed a petition to bring Uber to upstate New York. A new poll released by Uber also shows 80% of people in New York want ride-sharing across the state. Uber leaders said it’s an important time as elected officials are looking toward their plans for 2017.

“The way to really get it done is to make sure elected and representatives prioritize catching New York up to the rest of the country and the rest of the world,” Josh Gold, senior policy manager for Uber, said.

Governor Andrew Cuomo recently told people to call their state lawmakers if they want ride-sharing in Upstate New York. Senator Seward agrees people need to get their voices heard.

“I’m hoping going into the 2017 session there will be enough public pressure, enough local government official pressure on particularly members of the Assembly,” Seward said.

We reached out to the sponsor of the Assembly bill, but he was not available for comment. Looking ahead to 2017, Senator Seward said he will reintroduce the same Senate bill early next year. He said from there, they’ll have to see what the Assembly brings to the table during the session next summer. That’s when they’ll see if the two sides can come to an agreement.

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