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Stephanie Miner and Joanie Mahoney pledge to allow operation of ride-hailing services in local area

Emmy Gnat | Head Illustrator

Central New York residents in interviews said they are thankful Uber and Lyft will soon be operating in the region.

Both Syracuse and Onondaga County plan to comply with the new statewide regulatory framework for ride-hailing services that will go into effect this summer, meaning Uber and Lyft will operate in the area.

After being legalized across much of the United States and in countries around the world, ride-hailing services will be allowed to operate in upstate New York as early as July, following more than a year of debate among New York lawmakers over how to regulate the revolutionary transportation apps.

A measure legalizing the services was included in the state’s 2018 fiscal year budget passed last week. Several compromises were made between the Senate, Assembly and New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to ensure the bill’s passage, lawmakers said. One compromise will allow local governments to opt-out of a statewide regulatory framework and ban ride-hailing companies from operating within their jurisdictions, if desired.

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Every county in the state and cities that have populations of 100,000 residents or more — outside of New York City — will be able to opt-out of the framework. Syracuse had an estimated 144,142 residents in 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Alexander Marion, a city spokesman, said in an email that Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner has no plans for Syracuse to opt-out of the statewide framework. Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney in a statement to The Daily Orange said the county is happy that ride-hailing was included in the 2018 budget.

“The leadership from Governor Cuomo to bring this service statewide is greatly appreciated and we look forward to taking advantage of it this summer,” Mahoney said. Justin Sayles, a county spokesman, clarified in an email that Mahoney, like Miner, has no plans to opt-out of the framework.

Central New York residents in interviews said they are thankful Uber and Lyft will soon be operating in the region.

James O’Connor, a Baldwinsville resident who works in the city and the Onondaga County town of Clay as a paramedic, said he is excited about the services’ legalization because it could have public safety benefits.

“If I want to go out and drink, my options are to find a ride or pay $35 for a cab ride, whereas ride-hailing services are supposedly cheaper than that to get back home,” he said. “I’m hoping that this could minimize or lower DWIs in the area.”

Katie Warner, a Utica area resident, frequently travels to the Syracuse area to visit friends. Warner said she’s had positive experiences with Uber while visiting New Orleans and San Diego and, like O’Connor, could see herself using a ride-hailing service to go out while in Syracuse.

“I just keep thinking — oh, if we are going out on a Friday or Saturday night — how much better I would feel about doing the Uber deal (instead of) one of us having to be a DD or getting somebody to pick us up,” she said. Bar owners in Syracuse previously told The Daily Orange they think ride-hailing services could have an impact and change the city’s bar scene.

The opt-out compromise was struck during budget negotiations, lawmakers said.

The state Assembly wanted to give local municipalities complete control over the services’ regulation, said Sen. James Seward (R-N.Y.) — the original sponsor of the Senate’s ride-hailing bill, which was passed in February. The Senate, on the other hand, wanted to establish a statewide regulatory system. There was concern in the Senate that smaller upstate communities would not have the regulatory capability to handle ride-hailing companies, he said.

Seward’s district covers portions of central New York, the Hudson Valley and the Catskills.

Assemblyman John McDonald III (D-N.Y.), one of the co-sponsors of the Assembly’s ride-hailing bill that was introduced earlier this year, said the regulatory compromise was made so downstate counties with longstanding agreements for ride-hailing services with the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission could opt-out of the statewide framework.

For example, Westchester County, he said, already has an agreement with the commission, allowing ride-hailing services to operate and drive consumers in the county’s jurisdiction. Both Nassau and Suffolk counties currently have similar agreements, as well. Lawmakers wanted to make sure counties that were satisfied with their current transportation systems were not constrained by a statewide framework for the services, McDonald said.

Advocates of the services have lauded ride-hailing as accessible, innovative transportation that will have economic benefits for upstate New York, while critics have expressed frustration, saying the services don’t play by the same rules and are less safe than traditional taxi and limousine companies.

It would be shocking, McDonald said, if upstate cities and counties opted out of the statewide framework. McDonald’s district includes a portion of Albany and the surrounding Capital Region.

To pass the ride-hailing bill in the budget, lawmakers also compromised on insurance requirements for ride-hailing drivers and services, taxes on the services and background checks for drivers: ride-hailing drivers cannot be on the national sex offender registry and must have a clean driving record.

The state Department of Motor Vehicles will also oversee the statewide regulatory framework and determine if fingerprinting — a point of contention during legalization efforts — will be used for background checks.

Mark Ilacqua, the president of Syracuse Regional Taxi and Suburban Transportation, said the background check requirements included in the bill don’t go far enough. The bill should have included a fingerprinting mandate in its text, he said, instead of pushing the responsibility to the DMV of deciding whether or not fingerprinting should be required.

“The bill really didn’t do anything to level the playing field,” Ilacqua said. New York City taxi and limousine drivers need to be fingerprinted and many upstate New York taxi drivers, including those employed by Ilacqua, have to be fingerprinted. “We’re really disappointed.”

McDonald and Seward both said they are happy with the bill and the regulatory compromise, agreeing that ride-hailing was a priority for lawmakers this legislative session, partly because Cuomo highlighted it as a budget issue after he included a ride-hailing measure in his original 2018 budget proposal.

“I think it’s a good piece of legislation,” Seward said. “We’ll be able to have the economic and the environmental and the public safety benefits of this transportation option available across the state, not just New York City.”

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