Push for upstate ridesharing shifts into high gear

Ridesharing companies have expanded throughout the country in recent years, but one region has been left in the dust: upstate New York.

While ridesharing companies, such as Uber and Lyft, have operated in New York City since 2009, New York’s insurance law bars the companies from operating outside of the city.

In an effort to reverse this policy, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner and Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren have penned a joint letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo to urge him to support “sensible legislation” to allow ridesharing in upstate New York.

“Our cities are in dire need of additional transportation options that will foster economic development by encouraging people to venture downtown for dinner or a night out with the peace of mind that they can get a ride home reliably and safely,” the letter says. “Peer-to-peer ridesharing would offer an innovative, flexible, 21st Century solution to the transportation deserts many upstate municipalities face, while also providing an opportunity for the State to set standards that would ensure public safety and consumer protection.”

This is the first time four upstate mayors have banded together to publicly support ridesharing. The mayors are members of a coalition called “New Yorkers for Ridesharing,” which also includes about 50 upstate businesses.

"The Capital City and the greater Capital Region are home to institutions that are on the forefront of technology and innovation,” Sheehan said in a statement. “As the sharing economy expands, bringing ridesharing to our community is the next step toward the future. Ridesharing would expand opportunities and access for business owners, residents, and visitors

Along with the letter to the governor, the coalition plans this month to start calling and sending letters to elected officials to generate support for ridesharing.

Lyft and Uber drivers operate as independent contractors who use their personal vehicles to transport passengers. Unlike taxi and livery services, the companies do not own the vehicles. Under the state’s insurance laws, personal vehicles cannot be used for business purpose

In 2014, Lyft received an order from the state Department of Financial Services and state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to stop operations in Buffalo and Rochester, alleging the company was violating the state’s insurance laws by failing to require its drivers to hold commercial licenses, carry adequate insurance and comply with local for-hire licensing rules.

“As Buffalo’s economic prosperity continues to grow in our city, we must make sure we continue to lead by example in coming up with new ways to create opportunity and better serve our residents and visitors,” Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said in a statement. “I join other mayors across New York in embracing the ride-sharing economy as an important component of a diverse and robust transportation system that increases options for all people, while also offering an innovative platform to those who wish to make extra money by using their cars to give rides to others within the city safely and conveniently.”

After proposed changes to the state’s insurance law to allow ridesharing weren’t passed before the end of last year’s legislative session and were not included in this year’s state budget agreement, supporters are pushing for the legislation to pass before the end of the session.

Last July, Cuomo said on “The Capitol Pressroom” that there should be a “statewide regulatory framework” for ridesharing companies.

State Sen. Jim Seward, chairman of the Senate Insurance Committee, and Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, chairman of the Assembly Insurance Committee, have both introduced legislation that would change the state’s laws to allow ridesharing upstate.

Last year, Seward and Cahill held a series of roundtables and hearings to discuss the legal and regulatory obstacles ridesharing companies face in their efforts to expand upstate.

“There are a number of economic and environmental benefits to ride-sharing and other offshoots of the ‘sharing economy’ and I want to help bring these budding ideas to upstate New York,” Seward said in a statement. “I have made this issue a priority and remain optimistic that a final resolution can be reached.”

See the full letter below:


Upstate NY Mayors Ridesharing Letter to Gov Cuomo