Those looking for a safe trip home from their Fourth of July celebrations in New York state will be able to catch a ride with Uber or Lyft.
The state Assembly approved a bill on May 23 that expedites the expansion of ride-sharing services into areas outside of New York City. The state Senate passed the bill earlier this month.
Ride sharing, which is allowed in New York City under the city’s taxi laws, was originally set to become legalized in the rest of the state on July 9. The recently approved changes in the legislation bring those services to the region 10 days sooner on June 29, just in time for the holiday weekend.
“The adoption of this legislation will create new jobs and provide safe, more reliable transportation options during a hectic holiday period,” said state Sen. Terrence Murphy, a Republican whose 40th Senate District includes parts of Dutchess,
Putnam and Westchester counties. “Unfortunately, too many drivers overdo celebrating the Fourth and then get behind the wheel. Now they will have the safer option to use ridesharing to get home.”
The bill, approved unanimously in the state Senate, was sponsored by Sen. Michael H. Ranzenhofer, an Erie County Republican, and Assemblyman Kevin A. Cahill, a Kingston Democrat.
“Accelerating this safe, reliable transportation option will make our roads safer and save lives during one of the busiest travel times of the year,” said Ranzenhofer.
Proponents of the expansion of ride-sharing companies into the rest of the state say these services will offer New York a variety of economic, environmental and public safety benefits.
“Giving ride-sharing companies the green light 10 days early in time for the Fourth of July weekend, when tourism traffic and holiday celebrations will be at their peak, could be a true lifesaver,” Senate Insurance Committee Chairman James L. Seward said.
If the bill is signed into law by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, companies like San Francisco-based Lyft are ready to hit the ground running.
“We plan to launch as soon as possible after it is legally permitted,” said Adrian Durbin, director of communications at Lyft, a company valued at $7.5 billion that allows customers to hail a ride from an app on their smartphone.
The expansion of ride-sharing companies into New York state was agreed upon by lawmakers and Cuomo as part of the state’s $153 million budget for the 2017 fiscal year. The law was originally intended to take effect on July 1, 90 days after the budget’s expected adoption on April 1. However, because the budget was delayed until April 9, the services would not have been available until July 9.
“It is a common-sense measure that will save lives,” Murphy said of the expedited time frame.
As part of the legalization of ride-hailing services in the state, companies like Lyft and Uber are required to maintain minimum insurance coverage levels of $1.25 million while transporting passengers. The state will also establish safety standards that include mandatory background checks, ongoing monitoring for traffic safety and zero-tolerance drug and alcohol policies.
The measure also creates a task force that would identify and address barriers to and opportunities for greater access for New Yorkers of all abilities. There would also be a 4 percent tax on rides. The measure also makes rideshare drivers eligible for workers’ compensation insurance offered through the state’s existing Black Car Fund.
The state Department of Motor Vehicles will be in charge of the licensing and oversight of rideshare companies.
However, the state included a stipulation that allows county governments and four major cities – Rochester, Yonkers, Syracuse and Buffalo- the option to block ride-sharing companies from picking up passengers within their municipal limits. Whether any municipality will take advantage of that option remains to be seen.
“We are waiting for the DMV to promulgate its rules and regulations for ridesharing,” said Daniel Branda, a spokesperson for Westchester County Executive Robert P. Astorino.
In Yonkers, Mayor Mike Spano has been a longtime proponent of the service, though his administration would like to see a fingerprinting component added to the regulations, said Christina Gilmartin, the mayor’s communications director.