A bill is pending in the State Legislature in Albany that would allow app-based car services, like Uber, to operate throughout the state in a manner which is dangerous to the health, safety and welfare of the riding public. Uber is now limited to the New York City area where regulation of the for-hire vehicle industry is heavy. On October 19, 2015, the Assembly kicked off a series oftwo closed-doorroundtablediscussions on the bill– introduced byAssemblyman KevinCahill and State Sen.James Seward – thatwould allow app-based companies like Uber, to provide for-hire transportation using non- commercial private vehicles. The bill would create quasi-part-time commercial insurance for people using their personal vehicles. Most importantly, the bill would also create two different sets of safety regulations in the process.
On November 19, 2015, another roundtable discussion was held before a panel of state lawmakers who promised to take the concerns of all stakeholders into account as they seek to legalize upstate car-hailing operations. The members of the legislature seem to agree that every entity is a little bit different, but believe that they are all in the transportation field. This makes it very important for people in New York to know they can rely on that ride, that they are provided with certain insurance coverage and that they are going to be safe in their travel. The State Senators seem to believe that there is room for everyone to operate, without too much damage. It is the danger to the unsuspecting public that we are most concerned about.
During the November 19, 2015 discussion, taxi representatives in upstate New York repeatedly said that they do not believe the app-based companies do a good enough job screening their applicants before letting them ferry passengers, and that it is unfair for the app companies to be subject to different rules from traditional taxis. They targeted argued that the app based car-hail services would endanger the jobs of taxi drivers and of service workers in dispatch offices and garages, replacing the full-time work with part-time driving positions.
Avik Kabessa, the CEO of Carmel Car and Limousine Service as well as a permanent member of the Livery Roundtable (“LRT”) argued that allowing Uber and Lyft to self-regulate can be disastrous because there would be no penalties for the app-based companies if they stopped conducting background checks or ceased providing insurance. He said he had no problem with the idea of Uber and Lyft operating upstate as long as they are subject to the same rules as traditional car services. Kabessa also said he had no issue with Uber and Lyft offering their drivers part-time insurance - active only when a driver is available in the app to take passengers - as long as his own affiliated drivers could also utilize such a part-time insurance policy.
Putting the insurance component aside, there is a significant difference in the safety rules between the proposed TNC’s and the rest of the taxi and car service industry. Unlike how the TNC’s would operate under the proposed bill, the traditional taxi and car service driver must hold a specific license as well as undergo rigorous background checks and fingerprinting. The taxi and car service vehicle is also required to be inspected more often than a private vehicle and such license is subject to being suspended or even revoked if certain regulations are not adhered to. Uber’s answer to all of these safety issues is that they are unnecessary since they will self-regulate. TNCs have typically used low-cost, third-party background checks that have repeatedly proven to not be thorough enough to prevent felons from getting behind the wheel.
The most important issue for the Legislature to consider is not simply the insurance provision. The questions they should be asking and seeking answers to are what set of rules should a company adhere to when they are providing transportation to paying customers. The type of car – or taxi – a customer rides in, or how they booked the ride, should not matter. New York State must ensure that its passengers are safe no matter what mode of transportation they choose. The manner in which transportation service is booked, whether by a smartphone application or a call to a car service, is of no consequence. After all, there is no difference in the service provided by companies like Uber, taxis or other car services. As such, shouldn’t they all be held to the same set of safety standards? If the State Legislature believes that traditional safety rules should not longer apply to transportation, then such rules should be stricken for the entire industry. It should be safety for all or self-regulation for all. Safety for some and TNC self-regulation for some is hypocritical because it creates two sets of rules that govern the provision of identical service
This is not simply a matter of the taxi and car services resisting change to the status quo. This is all about the health, safety and welfare of the riding public. The question is not whether the technology used to book a ride should be regulated, but rather should the driver and vehicle providing the transportation be? Regardless of what type of insurance should be provided, the main focus should be on the obvious reality that not requiring providers of transportation to be held to higher safety standards, will place unsuspecting riders at grave risk. This is something that the State simply cannot alllow.