Uber and Lyft Campaign to Expand Operations into Upstate NY

Uber and Lyft are gearing up for a campaign to expand their ride-hailing operations into upstate New York to include Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Albany.

New Yorkers for Ridesharing, a coalition of more than 50 groups that support the expansion, is launching a new effort this month to use letters, phone calls and advertisements to encourage state lawmakers to allow the expansion. Uber and Lyft are currently limited to the New York City area and will need new state regulations in order to operate upstate.

The coalition brings together Uber, Lyft, chambers of commerce, trade groups and local elected officials who say the ride-hailing services will be a boon to riders, businesses and potential employees.

"Increased access to transportation means increased access to restaurants and bars," said Jay Holland, government affairs coordinator for the New York State Restaurant Association, a member of the coalition.

Conventional taxi companies are fighting the expansion, saying it would threaten the jobs of dispatch operators and other backroom employees who aren't necessary for Uber's web-based business model. They also say the ridesharing companies should have to comply with the same rules — taxes, fare regulations, insurance — that have long applied to the taxi industry.

"We're not opposed to competition — what we need is a fair playing field," said Mark Ilacqua, president of Suburban Taxi in Syracuse. "Taxi companies follow regulations on fingerprint background checks, workers' compensation, for-hire insurance and many other costs. ... Uber and Lyft want to avoid regulations simply because they care more about corporate profits and cutting fares."

More than 40 states now allow ride-hailing companies to compete with traditional taxis. Buffalo is now the largest U.S. city without Uber. Regulating the expansion is expected to be one of several items facing lawmakers as they turn their attention from the recently passed state budget. They plan to adjourn the 2016 session before mid-June.

"I have my fingers crossed," said Rita Bentley, of Rochester, who is hoping to become a Lyft driver to supplement her income from a local pizza shop. "Whenever I travel I take an Uber or Lyft. People can't believe that it's not already here."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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