ALBANY – The push to bring Uber or other ride-hailing services -- commonly referred to as ride-sharing -- to upstate picked up support from one of the most influential business voices in Western New York: Kim Pegula.
“As Buffalo is viewed from the outside world, not having ride-sharing when it’s available in 47 other states, kind of makes us look like we’re behind the times, and that’s not the image we want to portray to people outside the city or to the residents themselves,’’ said Pegula, who with her husband Terry co-owns the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres.
“I feel like it’s holding us back as an area,’’ she said.
Event organizers based out of state are increasingly asking why upstate does not have ride-hailing services to offer as an incentive to lure promoters of concerts, sports tournaments and other events, Pegula said in an interview Wednesday with The Buffalo News. Sabres officials previously said the biggest complaint they heard from visitors and team executives during the National Hockey League’s annual draft earlier this year in Buffalo was the lack of ride-hailing services and reliance on a taxi-only based system.
”I’m not one of those who like to get involved in politics … but the question keeps coming up more frequently why we don’t have ride-sharing,’’ Pegula said.
Uber this week launched a $1 million advertising campaign. Its theme: pass a stalled ride-hailing bill in a special session this month at the Capitol.
The taxi industry is fighting the effort, saying Cuomo and some lawmakers are trying to set up an unfair playing field that will work to the advantage of companies like Uber and Lyft.
Pegula’s support for the service comes as some lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo say they want ride-hailing legalized in the next couple weeks if the Legislature returns to Albany for a special session before Dec. 31.
“We host many events in Buffalo, especially in HarborCenter, and one of the main concerns we’ve heard from fans and others is that ride-sharing is not available in our city. For people spending weekends in our city, the ability to find quick, easy transportation to see the rest of the city or Niagara Falls or the surrounding area, it’s increasingly hard for us to come up with an answer for them why we don’t have ride-sharing,’’ she said.
For the Pegula sports and entertainment empire, it is both about image and economics. Groups looking to locate big events in Buffalo, such as next March’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament and the World Juniors ice hockey tournament that begins Dec. 26, 2017, in Buffalo, have raised concerns about the lack of the ride-hailing services.
“The World Juniors is a big event for us. We’ve tried to let them know and understand that we don’t have ride-sharing now, but we’re hopeful when the event takes place we will,’’ she said.
Pegula said visitors who come to Buffalo and are regular users of ride-hailng services elsewhere complain about slow, expensive and sometimes unreliable taxi services.
“Logistically, it’s hard to ask an out-of-town fan or guest to come into our city over several days and say to them, ‘You’re on your own to see the sights or go from one event to another,’ ’’ Pegula said.
Pegula said the region has not lost out on hosting an event specifically for the lack of ride-hailing services, but she said the issue is increasingly raised when Buffalo competes against other cities for large-scale events. For out-of-town visitors who do travel to Buffalo for one of these events, she said, the lack of the service “doesn’t quite leave the 100 percent satisfaction you hope to have when people visit this area.’’
“It also goes to how we want to represent our city and area, especially to guests visiting for the first time,’’ she added.