New York State could be closer to allowing Uber and Lyft to operate here. Maybe. Sort of.

uber app sample screenshots

Sample screenshots from the Uber app.

It's been more than two years since a local campaign started to get "ride sharing" services such as Uber and Lyft to come to the Capital Region. And, as it turned out, a big obstacle to those services operating here and in other non-NYC parts of the state is the way New York's laws are configured.

But now the state legislature is on the verge of removing that obstacle. Probably. Maybe.

Here's the situation -- and a glimpse at one possible related future.

Wait, so what is the problem again?

Uber and Lyft don't currently operate in New York State outside of NYC because of the way the state's insurance laws are configured. Boiled down, the problem is that the ride sharing services need to buy insurance for participating drivers, but they can't currently do that without the state legislature passing legislation to specifically allow "transportation network companies" to buy such group insurance plans.

So, the bills currently in the Assembly and state Senate would open the way for this happen, and they would require the companies to have two levels of coverage:
+ When participating drivers have the apps on, but don't have passengers, there'd be liability coverage of $50k per person and up to $100k per incident.
+ When participating drivers are on their way to pick up passengers, or have passengers in their cars, there would be liability coverage up to $1 million.

If both chambers pass their bills (and the bills match up), and Andrew Cuomo signs the legislation, Uber and Lyft would be eligible to buy the necessary insurance.

That's it? There's gotta be more to it?

Of course there is. When the state legislature first picked up the issue of opening the way for ride sharing companies to operate around the state, the proposed legislation dealt with a range of topics --including permitting, vehicle inspections, and driver licensing -- that could have set up a statewide system for regulation.

All that stuff has been pushed to side in the interest of getting the bills through the legislature and addressing the insurance issue, which was the biggest obstacle.

Uber Lyft event Takk House 2016-05-25
Vic Christopher talking to the crowd at the event at the Takk House in Troy this past Wednesday. He and Matt Baumgartner started a campaign more than two years ago to get Uber operating in the Capital Region.

So, what are the odds the legislature gets this done?

At an event in Troy this past Wednesday intended to local highlight support for Uber and Lyft, local Assemblyman John McDonald said he was "very hopeful and cautiously optimistic" the legislature would get this done before the session ends June 16. But: "I've learned after my 17 years in government that nothing's certain until it's done."

Josh Gold, Uber's New York policy advisor, told us at that same event that he thinks there's a decent shot this gets done because there's popular support for opening the way for the services, and focusing on the insurance issue by itself is less contentious than the previous package of proposed regulation.

So, if this legislation goes through, Uber and Lyft can start operating?

Yes... sort of. It's up to local municipalities. Cities and towns could basically do nothing and let the services start operating, or they could take a range of actions to impose varying levels of regulation.

That will be an important part of all this to keep an eye on when (if) the whole process gets that far. And given how many local municipalities the state has, it could be a significant snag.

What about regular taxis?

As you know, taxi services in the Capital Region don't have a good reputation. There's ample evidence of that. So the hope among local officials and business owners who have customers/clients who use taxis has been that introducing Uber and Lyft to this area will provide a much needed alternative and competition.

It will be interesting to see how the local market shakes out. McDonald said that local taxi companies have told him that 80 percent of their business is non-emergency medical transport -- and that demand from other types of riders is inconsistent. (Of course, you have to wonder how much demand might potentially be there if people felt more confident about calling a cab.)

The Albany convention center and the Schenectady casino are both set to start operating within the next year, so they could be sources of additional business for companies that provide rides on demand -- whether it's a traditional taxi or something like Uber. And McDonald said he thinks the overall pie will grow and there will be enough to go around for everyone.

"As I always say, take a 12-inch blueberry pie and make it a 20-inch pie. Everyone will have enough. No one will walk away hungry."

What about making the taxi situation better?

Parallel to the push to open the way for Uber and Lyft, John McDonald has also proposed legislation that would allow CDTA to handle many of the administrative duties regarding taxi service that currently are handled by local municipalities in the region. And if that happens, it opens the way for regionalizing taxi service -- both the rules and fare system -- which should make things easier for riders and taxi companies.

"One of the things I've learned in sitting down with municipalities, sitting down with the local police chiefs, sitting down with the taxi operators, is that there really is no full circle of accountability," McDonald said Wednesday of the current situation. "There's really no process for people to complain. And more importantly for the taxi operations, they're running in different municipalities and everyone has a different set of rules. It doesn't make sense."

And the future?

CDTA bus downtown Albany

Things could get interesting if CDTA is allowed to take on some of this administration and taxi service is regionalized. With a little bit of imagination, you could see one version of the future in which CDTA acts as the clearinghouse for all sorts of local transportation options: buses, taxis, maybe car share.

And in this speculative future, why not a CDTA app (or apps) that you could open on your phone and see a whole range of transportation options? You could be standing at the corner of State and Pearl in downtown Albany and be shown the bus lines (both local and BusPlus) running nearby that could take you to your destination (and you could pay the fare with your phone or smart card), along with the price of the taxi fare (with a button to order a taxi and pay for it), and the locations of nearby car share stations.

There a lot of reasons why the future won't necessarily play out like that. Getting a bunch of different systems to work together is always hard. But the popularity of Uber and Lyft suggest the world is moving in that general direction -- where a car is not necessarily something you own, but rather one of multiple options for getting from here to there.


+ A few more thoughts about the push for Uber, Lyft, and similar services upstate

+ An attempt to hail Uber for the Albany area

+ Four trends shaping the way people will get around the Capital Region in the future


We need Uber here. That is all there is to it.
We need it for convenience, we need it to compete with other cities for business and growth and we need it for safety.
I haven't the time nor the words to describe how bad, with few exceptions, the cab service in this area is, from rude dispatchers to 'some' dangerous and unpredictable drivers. It is embarrassing at best.
Yes, Duffy's and Capitaland, I'm talking about you. Just go away, and you will when this gets finally done. It can't come soon enough.
Jason Gough

I used to bartend at a certain pub that had a nice view of a local park. I would regularly get cabbies ON DUTY as business. They used to sit on the patio and cat call woman and one even bragged about doing acid on duty with his dispatcher. Please get uber and lyft here.

Absolutely right, Jason!

"As I always say, take a 12-inch blueberry pie and make it a 20-inch pie. Everyone will have enough. No one will walk away hungry."

I've never heard anyone say this, but I'm glad I have now.

I have lived in the area for almost 10 years. In that time, I can count the number of times my wife and I have taken cabs on one hand, and those occasions were all in the most urgent of situations - we've never called a cab for a routine night out when we didn't feel like driving home. In contrast, we would probably be regular Uber/Lyft users, as a one-car household where only one adult drives.

The only reason the cab companies perceive that demand is low is because the services currently being offered are so poor. Uber and Lyft would be nothing but a net benefit for the region - it's indisputable.

Absolutely right Jason! Let's also own the fact it will increase business development downtown and reduce DWI's. I will definitely have more adult time if this resource was in the capital district. I will never use a cab in the area. I don't feel safe with the cabs. They are unsafe.

Keep garbage companies like Uber and Lyft out of the Capital District. Municipalize and professionalize taxi service by bringing it under the control of regional CDTA.

Some of Uber's terribleness laid bare:

Put my vote in for UBER. Just looking at the cabbies and their rides have been enought to keep me walking and driving.
UBER will enhance the whole downtown experience

We have used almost all of the taxi services over the past 3 yrs. and, we were told by two drivers that the two largest cab svcs referred to in Jason G's post have merged.
The cabs in the area are awful. Dirty, long wait times and they go the longest route they can think of. Oh, getting a cab with three other passengers going to their destinations seems like a bus svc. We found a car service company in Guilderland - he is wonderful.
Which do you think will happen in our Legislature: term limits, ethics reform or Uber?

Uber has shown to be beyond any doubt a criminal highly-manipulative enterprise. I eagerly oppose any legalization attempt of any criminal tax-evading frauds possible (inc, Uber) - laws are laws, and there are laws and regulations governing this industry. If $65 billion dollar Uber refuses to follow laws - it's Uber's problem. I open my iPhone and I see many apps that local fully-legit transportation companies already provide. Download and use them. No need in criminal Uber and its manipulative tactics, not here, not anywhere else.

I'm starting to wonder if any accusation against Uber can be made that would convince me to rescind my support. I don't think there is. We need this service here, because we really have no viable alternative. Taxis here are so bad that most people I know would rather change their trips call one, myself included. I know that people everywhere complain about taxi service in their city, but when you're routinely forced to share a cab with someone else while being charged a full fare, something is very wrong. Considering that's one of the better aspects of the level of service in the area, Uber's CEO would have to personally burn down the city of Albany right in front of me to change my mind.

JayK - well put, it just cannot get much worse... Personally I hoped just a threat of Uber would make things change. Oh, well.

That was my original hope as well, Mike. Time for Plan B it seems!

In this unconscionably unequal world, I judge any law, practice, or society on how it effects the bottom 10 %. As per usual, the AOA set sides with the priviledged elite over the lowest wage workers and the downtrodden "gig" slaves. Screw Vic Cristopher and Matt Baumgartner, who would step on anyone to bring more lucre into their own pockets. The results from allowing these services are clear and widely available. More ease of leasure for an ignorant, coddled middle class which feeds at the most abundant and resource pillaging trough in the history of the planet, yet still searches for more ways to get fatter while it whiningly complains of a stagnant quality of life as if it had been granted a birthright to a continually increasing level and ease of consumption. Go on AOA people, suck some more juice from the dregs of society.

james - I am missing your point.
Albany taxi, among other things, are blamed for high and inconsistent fares. I am sure, that is something you don't want to see as a minimum wage worker.
Or you feel bad for taxi drivers who earn pennies? Well, service quality is such that higher quality competition will push them out of business no matter what..


Uber fares tend to be cheaper and also provide jobs that require very little education. They simply want drivers who have clean cars and are friendly, that's it.

I do agree with you that the results of ride sharing are clear and available however. More jobs are created, customers have a cheaper/safer/more efficient way to travel, and new businesses are able to eliminate any issues of setting up shop near a parking garage. Oh, and DUI's tend to decline as well.

Uber, along with other “gig economy” innovations, have me contorted. On one hand, innovation is good, and these industries are helping clean up the inefficient, bloated and/or manipulative services that have reign supreme for decades (as we can clearly see with local taxi service). Many of these industries were slowly regulated over time to help protect the workers or consumers, but too often, these regulations morphed into industry protections, often to crowd out innovative competitors and retain profits to the existing players. On the other hand, many of these social platforms bill themselves as a third party middle-men, helping to link consumers with producers, which allows them to treat their employees as independent contractors. Therefore, my Uber ride may be cheap and convenient, but it comes at a cost of me discounting the employee. In my few Uber trips, I’ve inquisitively asked how drivers feel about this and sentiment ranges from: I’m willing to sacrifice job security and benefits for exceptional pay (often with a qualifier “I don’t know if the me of 20 years later will be happy with that decision”) to those who need this job because it’s a job, but feel like second class citizens in our economy because they have no health insurance, no unemployment insurance, no theft or injury protections, etc. I think we all need an open-mind about how to appropriately transition into the “gig economy” by supporting policies that encourage innovation, but still protect workers (and consumer) rights. I love my Uber ride, but I just read about a new gig company that will transform the temp agency world, doing to the office workplace what Uber is doing to the taxi service, and while I’m not sweating yet, I’m sure corporate America is itching to dump employees for the independent contract model and will equally embrace these “gig-temp agencies” with the same fervor millennials have embraced Uber (why hire me for $45,000 plus another $20,000 in benefits that I may or may not see, when they can use “Fill My Cubicle” and hire an independent contractor for $20 an hour, no additional charges necessary).

Downtown Albany, the capitol of NY State, looks like a bombed out "city". It is not only shameful but unnecessary. The politics have killed it. There is no night life and never will be. Downtown died when Rockefeller carved the heart and soul out of the city. It will never be the same. Look at Schenectady and Troy. Then, people, with nothing better to do, oppose Uber and Lyft. For God's sake wake up! The economy is faltering so why oppose a move that would help the area in more ways than one. The mentality is 20th century bound. Stodgy politicians and people who have no life.

At the bottom of the article the Governor's proposal for legislation is laid out. Interesting (to me) are the double state minimum insurance requirements and the $1Million PELP. I'll also be interested in how the WC portion flies with with the transportation networks. From a insurance and state regulatory standpoint I think his proposal gives authority to operate up here without giving the farm away to Uber- a difficult task. I look forward to eating popcorn while listening to the pro-Uber crowd's reactions, especially in Troy.

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