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You bet your app: Ride hailing upstate may debut by July 4

Possibly as soon as July 4, ride-hailing services including Uber and  Lyft are expected to be available in Buffalo and other upstate communities.

And, for its many supporters, ride-hailing is long overdue.

“We’re very excited we’ll be coming to Buffalo,” said Adrian Durbin, Lyft’s director of communications.

Added Josh Gold, policy director from Uber: “We want to provide affordable, reliable transportation for everyone, everywhere.”

And even those who resisted – the taxi companies – are now talking about starting their own ride-hailing businesses.

“I felt if the public really wants it, we’re going to be part of it,” said Bill Yuhnke, president of Liberty Yellow Cab in Buffalo.

Yuhnke intends to launch his app, “Ride Local – Liberty Yellow,” when ride-hailing goes live.

So, what happens next? And, what will ride-hailing look like in Buffalo?

Budget deal will bring Uber and Lyft to upstate

When and where

Once Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signs the state budget in the coming days, the 90-day meter starts running toward the first ride in communities including Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Utica.

But first, the state Department of Motor Vehicles must come up with rules on ride-hailing, and companies will need to apply for permits to operate.

In the meantime, ride-hailing companies will be in Buffalo and other upstate communities promoting their arrival and making residents aware of the official launch.

Prospective drivers also will download apps, like Lyft or Uber, to their smartphones.

Gold said “thousands”of upstate residents already have started the process of becoming drivers for Uber.

“We are already recruiting drivers from our website,” added Durbin, of Lyft.

Ride-hailing is likely to catch on first in more populous areas like Buffalo. And, it could open up to smaller communities in the region, depending on the number and availability of drivers.

“That means being available in Buffalo, the suburbs and rural communities,” Gold said.

Added Durbin: “We cover 70 percent of the U.S. population. That certainly extends well beyond urban areas.”

License to drive

In order to get behind the wheel as a registered driver for a ride-hailing company, be prepared to clear a few hurdles.

The application process includes electronically uploading valid inspection, registration and insurance certificates as well as driver’s licenses.

And, you’ll need a relatively sound, reliable and clean vehicle.

Then, companies do a background check on drivers to make sure their driving and criminal records are clean, including of sexual offenses.

Typically,  it takes from a few days to a few weeks to get cleared to drive.

“It isn’t a long process, but it is a thorough process,” Gold said.

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Once drivers are cleared by the companies, they get a special windshield decal and their vehicles are added to that company’s app.

Drivers report as in-service on the app and are able to accept fares.

As independent contractors, drivers can even drive for both Uber and Lyft, or any other ride-hailing service.

They drive as little or as much as they want to, as long as they abide by company’s policies, which can set daily time limits on driving.

Typical earnings are about 75 percent of the trip's proceeds, which are deposited into an electronic account.

“I think there’s going to be the need for a lot of drivers,” Gold said. “We do expect to see growth as more people know about it and learn about it.”

Easy riders

Need a ride? Don’t expect to hail an Uber car or score a lift from Lyft.

You need the company’s smartphone app – and an account.

Pros and cons for Uber coming to Western New York

The app finds your location automatically, or prospective passengers can enter an address at a spot where they want to be picked up.

Riders will see on-screen how long they can expect to wait, and what the fare will cost.

Then, a driver – typically one geographically closest – is sent.

Rides can even be scheduled in advance.

Because billing information is pre-loaded when you sign up, there is no transfer of actual cash. The company takes charge of making sure the driver gets paid.

Then, to maintain quality control, the driver rates his passenger and the passenger rates his driver on a five-star basis.

“It started with that millennials and ‘techies’ group, but it has grown and expanded much beyond that,” Gold said.

Once upon a time, it was a new way to travel.

In Buffalo? Call it newish.

“Legalizing ride-hailing upstate has been the No. 1  issue my office receives calls from constituents on,” said State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy, D-Buffalo. “The fact that Buffalo remained the largest city in the country without it was embarrassing.”

Going local

Yuhnke, of Liberty Cab, remains unconvinced that ride-hailing “will even survive long term” in Buffalo.

If it does, he’s betting his local business model can outperform some of the more established companies.

“I know the people of Buffalo,” Yuhnke said. “We have such a base of customers – and a base of local customers.”

He hopes to build on similar models used by cab companies in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Yuhnke plans to start using a fleet of about 25 personal ride-hailing vehicles for “Ride Local – Liberty Yellow.”

Liberty’s new ride-hailing business will capture an “overflow of business” it couldn’t get with its regular taxi fleet, he said.

Some of the vehicles will even have wheelchair access – something that’s traditionally missing from standard ride-hailing companies.

Yuhnke also intends to conduct more rigorous background checks on his drivers that includes fingerprinting.

“Cab companies have to look at changing their models a little bit,” Yuhnke said. “We’ve been planning this for about a year and a half.”

In other words? If you can’t beat them, join them.

“I’m glad it’s over,” Yuhnke said. “It was such a distraction for everybody.”

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