Commentary: Uber, Lyft stalling themselves

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In June of 2015, the New York State Attorney General’s Office issued a consent decree that prohibited peer-to-peer ride sharing in all areas of the state outside of New York City, due to a lack of appropriate liability insurance coverage.

Assembly Bill 8195-B, which I sponsor, would remove this roadblock and would allow upstate New York and Long Island access to ride sharing, while affording localities the ability to regulate these services to fit their unique transportation needs.

Our proposal is simple. It provides for insurance coverage at all times during ride sharing activity, grants drivers access to workers’ compensation benefits and establishes comprehensive consumer protections.

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I introduced a measure, drafted largely by the transportation network company (ride sharing) industry with the clear understanding that it was being sponsored as a “study bill.” Such measures are intended to spur investigation, discussion, debate and inevitable alteration. The final legislation my colleagues and I advanced represented a consensus view of stakeholders from across a broad spectrum and no longer just the wish list of industry insiders.

It provided for “$100,000/$300,000” personal injury coverage for the period when the operator engaged the application. That amount rises to $1.5 million once the driver is en route to pick up a passenger, “period two” in their parlance, and continues until the end of “period three,” when the last rider exits the vehicle.

It also allowed for a workers’ compensation equivalent for drivers. Most significantly, it affirmatively preserved community control of these services, a tradition in the commercial personal transportation industry that predates even the automobile.

From the time that the initial measure was first presented, the Assembly has taken an all-inclusive approach to discussions.

In the fall of 2015, my colleagues and I on the Assembly Insurance, Local Governments and Transportation committees and the Task Force on People with Disabilities held roundtable discussions on ride sharing. Included in these forums were the transportation network companies Uber and Lyft, the insurance industry, the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, taxi, livery and bus operators, disability rights advocates, the Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials, the New York State Restaurant Association, the Business Council of New York State, the State Aviation Management Association, the State Trial Lawyers Association, credit unions, consumer representatives and other stakeholders. Throughout the 2016 legislative session, my office and our Insurance Committee central policy staff met with and communicated with the groups several times separately and together.

One might not know from press accounts and the rants of some industry representatives and their sympathizers, but this open and fair process led to the resulting legislation in the Assembly.

It is noteworthy that despite the claims of the insurance industry and ride sharing companies that the $100,000/$300,000 and $1.5 million liability requirements are “too expensive,” even after repeated requests, neither group has presented the actuarial data to justify this position. The truth is, however, our research shows that for literally pennies more per ride coverage in these amounts will ensure that drivers, riders and all New York State residents can be adequately protected at the levels we propose.

We welcome Uber, Lyft and other such entities to do business in our state and to join public transit, private taxis and limousine services to meet the transportation needs of our communities, but to be part of this mix they must demonstrate responsible corporate citizenship.

Indeed, the fate of the Assembly bill and its companion measure failing to advance thus far is solely because of the lobbying efforts of Uber and Lyft — the very industry seeking authorization.

Though they were aware that to insist on only their view would block agreement or even further negotiations, they worked overtime to keep the consensus legislation from getting to the floor. Thwarting reasonable legislation that would grant the means to operate, shows that some do not want to assume an appropriate level of responsibility, that consumers or operators do not come first in their minds and that they fail to grasp when it comes to legislation that other interests equally deserve a place at the table.

My colleagues and I are committed to advancing this common-sense measure and remain willing to negotiate responsibly with all parties to bring ride sharing to our constituencies. With the regular session behind us, had our legislation advanced, upstaters and Long Islanders could have been using these innovative services within weeks from now.

In the meantime, while we wait for these folks who like to call themselves “disruptive” to get over their tantrum, New Yorkers are left standing at the curb.

Kevin A. Cahill, D-Kingston, represents the 103rd Assembly District.

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