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Upstate's lack of Uber a fodder for punchlines

Talk of Uber -- or Buffalo's lack thereof -- has been everywhere lately.

County Hall. City Hall. Buffalo Place.

That didn't escape Empire State Development CEO Howard Zemsky on Thursday as he prepared to announce a series of state economic development awards.

The Buffalo developer, speaking at a state event in Albany, joked he was almost late getting to the gathering from his Albany office.

"I took out my smartphone and I instinctively went to my Uber app," Zemsky deadpanned. "The car arrived two hours and 45 minutes later because it came from New York City."

[Related: County joins push to bring ride-sharing services to Buffalo]

Buffalo is the largest city in the United States -- and the only National Football League and National Hockey League city -- without ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft. The ride-sharing services operate in New York City and are a staple of everyday life in most other major U.S. markets. But not in upstate New York, where Albany lawmakers have rejected legislation that would open the door for Uber and Lyft to operate.

Taxi companies have vehemently opposed ride-sharing services, which they say threaten their businesses, destroy jobs and put passengers at risk because they are not commercially insured. The industry has estimated that 11,500 non-driver jobs would be lost in upstate New York and Long Island, while cab drivers themselves would switch over to the competing models.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who previously offered lukewarm support for the expansion of ride-sharing to upstate, recently showed a greater willingness to back services like Uber and Lyft.

"We need the people of upstate to tell their representatives: Don't come home until you've passed ride sharing," Cuomo said last month.

Cuomo also was at the Albany event Thursday with Zemsky and made sure to get in on the joke. The governor told the audience he was the one who gave Uber's phone number to Zemsky.

[Related: WNY gets $62 million from state for projects]

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