ALBANY – A Buffalo state senator is inviting New York City lawmakers to attend forums he is holding at four upstate locations in an attempt to advance legislation legalizing ride-hailing services in upstate.
“These forums offer four different opportunities for our downstate colleagues in the state Legislature to see what we’re dealing with in upstate New York,’’ said Sen. Timothy Kennedy, a Buffalo Democrat.
The gatherings are not public hearings. They are being billed as “forums” expected to draw pro ride hailing crowds.
“I’m convinced that we will get a tremendous amount of positive feedback. However, it’s open to everybody and I expect it’s not going to be all pro ride-sharing,’’ Kennedy said.
A pitched battle is underway once again at the state Capitol over whether to expand ride-hailing services, such as Uber and Lyft, beyond New York City, the sole location in the state where consumers can use the internet-based transportation system.
Kennedy has scheduled four sessions in upstate, beginning February 11 at the Albright-Knox Art Museum auditorium, to press for ride-hailing’s legalization as part of the upcoming state budget that is due by March 31.
Several politicians and groups representing such interests as restaurants and college students have been pushing to expand ride-hailing to upstate and Long Island.
San Francisco-based Uber has been the big spending in the debate. In the last six months of 2016, the company spent $1.2 million on lobbying and marketing expenses in an attempt to get legislation passed during a December special session of the Legislature that never ended up being scheduled.
Opponents, including taxi cab owners, insurers and representatives of some groups representing disabled people, have noted Uber and Lyft's push to carve out different criminal background check provisions for their drivers than is now required in New York City.
They also say insurance liability is a problem and question localities being cut out from home rule authority to create their own ride-hailing rules that now exist over the taxi cab industry in upstate.
Other forums will be held February 15 in Rochester, March 8 in Syracuse and March 15 in Albany. Joining Kennedy at them will be Republicans and Democrats from both legislative houses.
In Buffalo, Kennedy said Sen. Chris Jacobs and Assembly members Crystal Peoples-Stokes are expected and Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren will be at the event in Monroe County. Whether any New York City lawmakers attend is unknown.
The Senate has previously backed ride-hailing legislation. The Assembly has not passed a bill.
Kennedy said upstate communities need additional transportation options now permitted in 36 states. He noted complaints from professional sports executives, tourists and others who come to Buffalo and want to use a ride-hailing service instead of a taxi.