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Transportation Committee Again Examines Ride-Hailing Services

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Transportation Committee Again Examines Ride-Hailing Services

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Legislature’s special Transportation Committee of again today took up the issue of ride-hailing services, which for nearly the past month have been authorized to operate in all of New York State.

As part of that session, the committee heard from officials of the ride-sharing service Lyft, the firm’s Public Policy Manager, Funsha Owolabi, responding as part of his presentation to questions that have been raised regarding issues such as background check procedures for drivers and insurance coverage protections. Addressing a question raised during public comment by Pete Myers of the Tompkins County Workers Center, Mr. Owolabi affirmed that, under New York State law, his service is required to provide Workers Compensation coverage to drivers, who work as independent contractors. Mr. Owolabi commented that his firm is committed to helping to reduce the numbers of cars on the road and seeks a collaborative relationship with public transit.

Owolabi provided one surprising bit of new information, which apparently relates to the placement of a comma in the state law—that any county in New York State, and not only those with populations of 100,000 or more, has the ability to opt-out of ride-sharing services; that the 100,000 limit applies only to cities. Responding to a question from the committee, he said that no other counties, outside of the large New York City suburban counties, to date have considered the opt-out issue.

Legislator Peter Stein today advanced a proposed opt-out resolution to the committee, one that he stressed was very important to him, which would have the Legislature exercise the County’s option to opt out, and also appoint a committee of “knowledgeable and respected individuals” to conduct a full examination of the issue and present its findings and recommendations to the Legislature. Mr. Stein said he’s especially concerned by a possible loss of local jobs and what he maintains could be in increase, rather than decrease, in greenhouse gas emissions from the presence of such services.

The proposed resolution failed to win committee support at this point—Mr. Stein voting in favor, and Legislator Jim Dennis and Chair Michael Lane opposed (members Dave McKenna and Glenn Morey were excused). Chair Lane said he believes the resolution at this point is premature, and that the committee needs to study the issue and continue discussion over the next year. Mr. Dennis agreed that the ride-hailing option should be preserved at this point, with committee evaluation later—especially since it serves those including our student and visitor populations who are used to having such services available elsewhere, and since it enhances transportation options for our Airport.

Legislator Will Burbank, not a member of the committee, said public safety is the biggest issue for him, and that he doesn’t see the background check provisions as adequate. Legislator Dooley Kiefer said obtaining exact information regarding the new State legislation should be the committee’s first task.