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Area taxi drivers argue against ridesharing

Rochester Business Journal
February 17, 2017

Rochester-area taxi drivers spoke out against ridesharing deregulation Friday, two weeks after the state Senate passed legislation allowing ride-hailing services to operate in Upstate New York.

The bill has yet to pass the state Assembly.

At question, taxi drivers say, is the potential for a loss of full-time jobs in the industry should for-hire transportation companies such as Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft Inc. be allowed to set up shop in Rochester. Taxi drivers say allowing ridesharing here will destroy full-time, professional driving jobs and replace them with poverty-level gig jobs.

Neither the bill that passed the Senate nor a version in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget allow for local regulations to set fare rates or guarantee cab drivers a living wage, a statement from Workers United and the New York Taxi Workers Alliance contends.

The Upstate Transportation Association, which represents the interests of the for-hire passenger transportation industry in Upstate New York, this week testified at the joint budget hearing that as many as 11,150 full-time, non-driver jobs within the taxi industry will be eliminated statewide if rideshare companies expand as quickly as their models predict.

“The jobs that rideshare companies claim to create are part-time gig work, with no benefits or protections for the drivers,” UTA President John Tomassi testified.

Tomassi also asked lawmakers to consider better background checks for rideshare drivers, noting a number of violent incidents that have taken place since the service gained popularity elsewhere.

Tomassi also said he was concerned that some lower-income communities will remain underserved, and that drivers will congregate in bigger cities and population centers.

During his budget testimony, state Department of Transportation Commissioner Matthew Driscoll was asked by Assemblyman David Gantt, D-Rochester, about whether low-income upstate residents without cell phones or credit cards would be able to access Uber. Driscoll’s response suggested that those individuals borrow a friend’s cell phone.

“The answer to Assemblyman Gantt’s question is that low-income upstate residents without a smart phone or credit card will not be able to use Uber,” Tomassi said in a statement. “This is just another example of how Uber is not actually available to all the low-income populations it claims to serve. It is also a reminder that the state and lawmakers have not yet taken the time to develop a ridesharing proposal that actually benefits all New Yorkers.”

Despite objections from the for-hire transportation industry, a number of elected officials and business leaders have expressed a desire for ridesharing legislation that allows the service statewide.

Assemblyman Mark Johns, R-Webster, has been a vocal advocate for ridesharing. In January Johns launched a public petition in favor of the service here.

“The state Senate has passed ridesharing for the second year in a row and the Assembly Majority continues to ignore this measure, despite it being a top priority for New Yorkers outside of New York City,” Johns said last week. “This should be done not only so that we can pass this important public safety and economic measure, but also because it would send a clear message that the voices of upstate are no longer being ignored by those in power in Albany.”

The Business Council of New York State Inc. has expressed support for ridesharing.

“Promoting economic freedom by allowing new industries and new business models such as ridesharing will help spur economic development, create jobs and complement our state’s existing public transit systems,” said Business Council President Heather Briccetti in a statement. “Residents in New York City and across the world have for years enjoyed the services of companies like Uber and Lyft. It’s time the rest of our state gets to join in.”

One-quarter of U.S. consumers have used a ridesharing service, according to J.D. Power and Associates, and more than 18 percent of consumers would give up owning a vehicle if effective alternative transport was available.

A recent poll from Siena College Research Institute found 77 percent of residents in New York support allowing ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft to operate across the state as they do in New York City. The percentage of individuals supporting the service was roughly equal among Democrats and Republicans.

(c) 2017 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail

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