More Folks Take Sides in Quarrel Over Ridesharing, Taxis, & NY Law

A group called the New Yorkers for Ridesharing coalition announced its presence to the world this week to advocate for companies such as Uber, and help them operate in upstate New York.

The coalition spoke Monday on a conference call with the media—just as more opposition to Uber cruising the streets of Manhattan bubbled to the surface. Early Wednesday morning, word came that taxicab owners sued the City of New York and the NYC Taxi & Limousine Commission in federal court for allowing Uber to cut into their business.

These spats between “new economy” companies and older incumbents will likely increase, with laws being tested and contorted in the process. As more groups and stakeholders take sides, it may get downright messy. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has attempted to break bread with the innovation community, but the rise of new types of commerce such as fantasy sports and ridesharing has led to a fair share of litigation as well.

Behind the ridesharing coalition is the Internet Association, whose membership includes FanDuel, Airbnb, Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar. The group asked on Monday for state lawmakers to establish a statewide regulatory framework to let ridesharing platforms run throughout the state, and to let drivers procure the kind of insurance necessary to provide such services.

The call included Noah Theran, head of public affairs for the Internet Association; Patrick Kaler, CEO of tourism promoter Visit Buffalo Niagara; and Mary Boland, director of communications for the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

Theran framed the talk by pointing out challenges of getting around upstate cities such as Buffalo, Syracuse, and Rochester. “One element of this is the ridesharing desert, or lack of options, that exists in New York State, north of the city,” he said.

Some of the benefits ridesharing offers, Theran said, include increased access to transportation for those who need it most and an economic boost to local businesses by making them accessible. He also asserted that ridesharing can provide extra income opportunities for individuals. “New Yorkers want what everyone else has: access to affordable transportation and the ability to earn money on your own terms,” he said.

The tourism industry in upstate New York could benefit from ridesharing, said Kaler, by giving visitors more options to get around to local restaurants and shops. The spread of ridesharing could also aid the visually impaired, Boland said. “Transportation is a very challenging, daily need for a lot of the people we serve here,” she said.

This includes going to work, medical appointments, school, and other common tasks the sighted may take for granted. “People who are blind or visually impaired could use existing smartphone features like voice-to-text to access these [ridesharing] platforms,” Boland said.

With those prepared points out of the way, the coalition faced questions from the press during the call about opposition to ridesharing—particularly its effect on taxicab owners, operators, and full-time workers. One of the issues raised about companies such as Uber is whether or not their drivers are classified as employees who are entitled to benefits and protections. The coalition stuck to its message, rather than get wrapped up in such sticky topics.

“Ridesharing is great for riders, and drivers who are looking to earn income by using their car,” Theran said. “If you look at other cities and states that ridesharing is widely available in . . . it is a great economic benefit to the communities.”

Whether or not lawmakers and the courts will agree with that premise remains to be seen.

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