By John Tomassi
After spending millions on a failed campaign to expand upstate, it is no surprise to see Uber and Lyft gearing up to lobby against common-sense regulation in the 2017 session. Before the ride-sharing giants spread their message of corporate entitlement at the Capitol, lawmakers must consider how unregulated ride-sharing could permanently damage the upstate economy and put passengers’ lives at risk.
When the ride-sharing discussion starts again, lawmakers must focus on preserving public safety, protecting jobs and ensuring that upstate ride-sharing drivers actually provide service to upstate communities. Uber and Lyft would rather not have these discussions – but their profit motives should never outweigh the needs of upstate residents.
One key issue is the ride-sharing giants’ confusing stance on fingerprint background checks in New York. These checks are required for taxi drivers statewide because they are the most effective way to prevent violent criminals from picking up passengers. In New York City, Uber and Lyft drivers are all fingerprinted.
But Uber and Lyft have lobbied aggressively against a fingerprinting mandate for potential upstate drivers.
It is hard to imagine why Uber and Lyft believe upstate riders should not enjoy the same safety standards that already protect New York City riders. It is even harder to imagine why lawmakers would support legislation that creates this public safety imbalance for their own constituents.
Additionally, lawmakers must ensure upstate riders have a safe driver and a safe vehicle. Any new ride-sharing drivers should be required to have periodic vehicle inspections, which are already commonplace for taxis. These inspections are vital to preventing accidents caused by improperly maintained cars.
Another key is jobs. Uber loves to highlight the part-time, gig economy jobs driving its corporate profits, but it has ignored facts about how an upstate expansion could kill thousands of good-paying, full-time jobs for New Yorkers. A 2015 report found that Uber’s upstate expansion would risk more than 11,000 full-time, non-driver jobs. These employees – dispatchers, mechanics and administrators – would have nowhere to go if ride-sharing giants avoid regulations and eliminate taxi companies.
For lawmakers who care about upstate economic growth, it makes no sense to trade away full-time jobs for part-time jobs.
Aside from all that, officials often forget one critical point: boundaries. Lawmakers have never addressed the fact that a loose regulatory environment will allow ride-sharing drivers to take their services to more profitable markets like New York City, ignoring the very upstate communities they claim to be serving.
Lawmakers must develop clear and robust regulations to ensure that drivers licensed in upstate cities can only provide ride-sharing services in those same upstate cities.
When January comes, Uber and Lyft will do anything to avoid these common-sense issues. Lawmakers who care about public safety and economic fairness shouldn’t let them off the hook.
John Tomassi is president of the Upstate Transportation Association.