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State Legislature should take steps to ensure survival of Buffalo CarShare

Buffalo CarShare began six years ago and now boasts thousands of current users. It is unfortunate that the business is under extreme economic pressure that may force it to curtail service.

The service has 19 vehicles that members use on an hourly basis, paying a monthly membership fee and an hourly rate. But CarShare’s insurance runs out soon, and can’t find an insurer willing to provide coverage.

CarShare’s executive director, Michael Galligano, traveled to Albany to push lawmakers to support bills in the State Senate and Assembly that will allow for-profit car sharing companies such as Getaround and RelayRides to operate in New York State. Getaround’s insurance carrier has agreed to extend coverage to Buffalo CarShare if the legislation passes.

Lawmakers should consider the benefit of improving the lives of low-income users and the environmental benefit of fewer cars. Walkability in a city becomes more possible with transportation alternatives like car sharing, which is not to be confused with ride sharing companies Uber and Lyft.

The State Senate’s bill recognizing car sharing services, co-sponsored by Sen. Marc Panepinto, D-Buffalo, has already been passed by the Insurance Committee. The senator is pushing to bring it to a vote before the end of the session next week. A similar bill in the Assembly is supported by Crystal Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo.

Buffalo CarShare blames its inability to find insurance on New York’s no-fault law. The law makes it difficult for insurance companies to assess the risk and set appropriate rates when hundreds of people are driving one vehicle.

The problem also affects Ithaca and Capital CarShare, as well as cities like Rochester, Syracuse, Binghamton, Utica and others in which Buffalo CarShare was interested in expanding. Buffalo CarShare has received a $280,000 state grant to replicate its model of nonprofit car sharing, but that will not happen if Buffalo CarShare and other independent car sharing organizations cannot obtain insurance.

A majority of Buffalo CarShare’s 900 paying users come from households earning $25,000 or less. The service is vital to low-income individuals who would otherwise have a difficult time making it to doctor’s appointments (more than 3,000 trips) and grocery stores (more than 8,000 trips).

Legislators must act swiftly to allow the nonprofit to continue its mission of serving the community.