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NYSNYS NEWS: Lyft ride sharing company running up against Legislature's calendar as it seeks change in NYS insurance law to let it operate here.
NYSNYS NEWS: Lyft ride sharing company running up against Legislature's calendar as it seeks change in NYS insurance law to let it operate here.

By Kyle Hughes

ALBANY, N.Y. (June 2) With just days remaining in the 2015 session, the ride sharing company Lyft and its supporters called on the Legislature Tuesday to pass a bill to change state insurance law and permit the service to get going in New York.

"There's not a culture that exists right now that's confident in calling a cab, confident that they would show up (that) a dispatcher that would even pick up the phone," said Vic Christopher, the owner of Lucas Confectionary, a unique bar and restaurant in Troy, and an outspoken supporter of ride sharing.

"To create a culture where people will travel in this manner will bring another level of business and another level of clientele into our respective businesses."

He says he has used the services in perhaps 20 cities and talked to dozens of drivers. He called Uber and Lyft "a life changing experience. This app has been pretty uplifting to a lot of people who have come from some pretty rough situations because it is an inexpensive entrepreneurial opportunity. Someone can be in business with an asset that they already own."

Albany restaurant owner Matt Baumgartner, whose businesses include Bombers and Wolff's Biergarten, said riding sharing would also likely cut down on drunk driving by providing alternative transportation. He said the "cab situtation is so bad" in the Albany region. "I have a lot of friends visiting and the Amtrak (train station taxi) situation is just a nightmare. I think it would just improve in a million different ways.

He supports Lyft's efforts to pass the bill to let Transportation Network Companies insure drivers participating on the ride sharing services in accordance with state Insurance Law. The bill also for registration and checks on driver backgrounds and safety records, giving the Department of Motor Vehicles authority to further regulate the services if necessary.

The company provides drivers with a $1 million policy when paying fares are on the vehicle, which must also have private auto insurance under state law. The bill would permit the companies to use group insurance policies to provide the coverage.

The bill's main sponsors are Assemblyman Kevin Cahill (D-Kingston) and Senator James Seward (R-Milford). Assemblyman John McDonald (D-Cohoes) the current taxi industry has many problems, including how credit card processing is done.

"The majority of credit card process that is done, as I understand from the dark underbelly (of the taxi industry), is basically calling in a credit card number over the radio," he said.

"Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) provide a digital platform that matches consumers with a community of vetted local drivers offering rides using their personal vehicles," the bill memo says. "Existing transportation options alone can no longer fully accommodate growing populations, yet 80% of the seats in personal vehicles remain empty. TNC platforms are already filling those empty seats across the country by providing additional transportation options to communities that need them most and reducing the economic burden of car ownership."

"The broader benefits of ridesharing are being realized in communities where TNCs have been able to scale effectively. Ridesharing protects consumer choice, responds to unmet market demands, supplies accessible and affordable transportation options to underserved areas, provides economic opportunities, reduces drunk driving, eases traffic congestion, curbs air pollution and provides last mile solutions to commuters seeking to utilize existing transit options. TNCs are continuing to evolve to maximize these benefits with innovative options in the largest markets where they have been able to grow within the framework of reasonable regulation."

Lyft was started in San Francisco in 2012 and now operates in 60 cities. While it is not active in all states, the company says the insurance laws of all states except New York currently permit its insurance policy to cover drivers when they have a fare.

The services operated for a few months in 2014 in Buffalo and Rochester until it was put on hold at the direction of the state attorney general's office. The bill would permit it to operate in everywhere in the state but New York City, where a taxi medallion industry is well established.

Lyft spokesman David Mack said there is little opposition to rolling out the service in New York.

"I would say our biggest opposition is the clock and time," Mack said. "There is not strong opposition that has come out opposed to the bill in the merits. It is literally a sense of making it a priority."

The session is schedule to end on June 17, with only eight session days left. There is also a logjam of end of session bills to contend with.