Ride sharing is a convenient option for students who do not have a car but need to travel. Taxis are often more expensive, less clean, and, in the Capital District, unreliable. Uber and Lyft are two of the most well-known ridesharing companies and they seem to be everywhere these days. However, there is one glaring gap in their coverage: Upstate New York.
Uber drivers can operate in New York City by obtaining a Taxi and Limousine Commission license, which allows commercial drivers to pick riders up. Additionally, New York State law requires each driver to obtain a commercial insurance policy. This is unusual, as most markets in which Uber operates allow Uber to insure drivers with a more cost-effective group policy. Because of this, Uber’s prices in New York City are some of the highest of all the cities it serves, and it does not operate upstate.
Bills have been introduced to committees of the New York State Legislature to modify the law to allow the type of group insurance that ride sharing companies would like to use. However, none have panned out. Senate Bill S4108 (https://poly.rpi.edu/s/q29yq) and Assembly Bill A8195 (https://poly.rpi.edu/s/w4yjb) would have allowed transportation network companies (e.g. Uber and Lyft) to obtain group insurance policies. After discussion over whether drivers in New York City would be allowed to be part of the new group insurance policies, it passed the Senate Insurance Committee and the Senate, but was not voted on by the Assembly before the conclusion of the 2016 Legislative Session.
Bills S4280 (https://poly.rpi.edu/s/bj9e5) and A6090 (https://poly.rpi.edu/s/w3qjm) are more broadly-scoped than the above bills that focused on group insurance. However, these bills have not moved out of committee, possibly due to their larger scopes. Insurance companies, taxi companies, ridesharing companies, and drivers are all looking for something specific in these bills, and they want their interests protected. The Democratic-controlled Assembly was pushing for higher minimum liability limits than the Republican-controlled Senate. It will likely take time for a compromise to be reached between the two houses.
In the meantime, municipalities have been given the ability to place the Capital District Transportation Authority in charge of administration of their taxi services after the passage and signing into law of Bills S7359 (https://poly.rpi.edu/s/j4vvq) and A9878 (https://poly.rpi.edu/s/cj003). Senator Neil Breslin remarked in the bill’s memo that it aims to “streamline administrative processes with the goal of providing improved taxicab service to those visiting the Capital Region.” CDTA would provide a “unified complaint process” and administrative services to “improve the customer experience.” If local governments choose to opt-in to CDTA administration, the quality of upstate taxi services may improve enough to lessen the impact of the lack of ride sharing services.
To raise awareness of its absence in the Capital District, Uber offered free ice cream delivery on July 15, 2016. Using the Uber app, people could request three chocolate-covered ice cream bars to be delivered to their current location. Additionally, Uber offered free ice cream at three restaurants, including Little Peck’s in downtown Troy. In a press release, the company said it offered ice cream “to give local residents in upstate cities a taste of what Uber can offer their city.” A Siena College poll (https://poly.rpi.edu/s/c7h30) conducted from May 22–26, 2016 found that 70 percent of New York state registered voters support legislation that would allow ride sharing companies to operate in their areas. Hopefully, by next spring, the legislature will be able to pass a bill that reflects the desire for residents to have Uber, Lyft, and similar services operate in upstate New York.