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Viewpoints: Assembly needs to stop blocking Uber and Lyft

By Rich Funke

For the past two years, a groundswell has been building in my district and in districts across the state to bring ride-sharing platforms like Lyft and Uber to upstate New York.

As chairman of the Cultural Affairs, Tourism, Parks and Recreation Committee and as co-chairman of the Science, Technology, Incubation and Entrepreneurship Committee, I researched these services and met with these companies early and often. I was quickly sold on the potential for ride-sharing to increase connectivity in our communities, reconnect cities like Buffalo and Rochester with the surrounding suburbs, and make our cities a more attractive destination for tourists and business.

New York has the dubious distinction of being one of only three states – the others being Wyoming and Alaska – to not allow ride-sharing. This might be expected in rural, frontier locations like Wyoming or Alaska, but it is unthinkable for the Empire State.

Buffalo is now the largest city in the United States without ride-sharing and Rochester isn’t far behind. This is unacceptable.

Over the course of negotiations, I have met constituents – disability advocates, students, business leaders, local elected officials and others – all of whom have urged us to bring these services here, and I agree. Don’t upstate consumers deserve to have the same choices as those downstate?

Working under the leadership of Sen. Jim Seward and the Senate Insurance Committee, we came up with a bill that would repair the insurance roadblock that currently exists in New York State law. It provided for “$50,000/$100,000” personal injury coverage when the operator engaged the application, and rose to $1 million once the driver is en route to pick up a passenger, continuing until the rider exits the vehicle.

This coverage level, agreed to by the insurance industry and ride-sharing companies, and featured in adopted legislation in almost 35 other states, represents double the current commercial requirement applied to for-hire vehicles upstate when there is no passenger in the car, and close to 20 times the requirement when there is a passenger in the vehicle.

Unfortunately, in June my colleagues in the Assembly inexplicably moved the goal posts and amended their legislation to increase those requirements even further, doubling the initial requirement to “$100,000/$300,000” and raising the requirement with a passenger to $1.5 million.

The Assigned Risk Plan (AIP) released calculations that show that an increase in insurance limits identical to the one proposed in the Assembly’s bill would cause upstate livery rates to increase by 212 percent, a cost that would be passed on to the riders. This would have the effect of imposing an upstate transportation tax on my constituents, simply so they could have the same transportation options as folks in New York City. That is flat-out wrong.

In a Siena poll last session, 70 percent of voters across all parties were in favor of bringing Uber and Lyft to New York. I am proud to say that the Senate majority passed the original bill that would have brought Uber and Lyft to upstate responsibly, and with lower cost to the consumer.

The Assembly Majority Conference – the vast majority of whom represent districts in New York City, where there are an abundance of transportation options – amended the bill to significantly increase the insurance requirements. As a result, upstate consumers lost out. It is a scenario that plays out far too often in New York.

I urge members of the Assembly to abandon their arbitrary increased requirements, listen to their upstate constituents and join with us to bring these much-needed services to upstate New York.

Rich Funke, R-Fairport, represents the 55th Senate District.

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