Editor’s Note: This is a guest editorial written by John Kadar, President of Ithaca Dispatch and Total Transportation of Elmira. It was not written by the Ithaca Voice, but subheadings have been added for better readability.

Submit guest columns to msmith@ithacavoice.com.

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ITHACA, NY – Mayor Myrick recently announced his support for the legalization of Uber and Lyft to operate in Upstate NY. NYS Bill 6090-A will allow Uber and Lyft to launch Upstate with minimal oversight. It will do that by preempting the constitutional authority of cities, towns and villages to regulate a locally occurring business activity that is not different in kind from taxicab service.

Actually, Section 2202(1) of NYS Bill 6090-A usurps the “home rule” rights of New York State municipalities by excluding them from enacting more restrictive ordinances governing the business activity of Uber and Lyft. NYS Bill 6090-A will not protect Ithacans who use Uber and Lyft nearly as well as Ithaca’s current taxicab regulations protect taxicab passengers.

Bill 6090-A requires a Google search of the name and social security number of prospective Uber and Lyft drivers. Taxicab drivers in Ithaca must undergo fingerprint (biometric) criminal background screening which according to a recent study, “One Standard For All” by Professors Daus and Russo, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, has an error rate of 1% compared to a 43% error rate for name checks.

No wonder that Uber and Lyft’s screening methods have allowed individuals with serious criminal histories to be hired. Some of them have perpetrated rape and assault on their female passengers. After a recent rape committed by an Uber driver, the University of Southern California advised its female students to ride in groups when using Uber.

Also, NYS Bill 6090-A, unlike Ithaca’s Taxi Ordinance does not require driver applicants to undergo a standard physical examination that would prevent individuals with debilitating conditions that could impair their ability to drive safely from being hired by Uber and Lyft as drivers.

Driving passengers for hire, even part-time, is a stressful and physically demanding job that requires drivers to be in good physical and mental condition. Bill 6090-A does not address this concern. Lastly, NYS Bill 6090-A does not require comprehensive safety checks on the vehicles used to transport passengers. A standard DMV inspection suffices under NYS Bill 6090-A. Taxicabs in Ithaca must have DMV inspections twice a year and also periodically submit to safety checks conducted by IPD.

When passengers engage an Uber or Lyft vehicle they will be entering it without the assurance that it is mechanically safe as possible or that its driver’s character and driving skill have been subjected to in-depth scrutiny.

Local police and other municipal agencies are not authorized by the Bill to respond to safety or customer service related complaints made by passengers. Nor does NYS Bill 6090 authorize local police to enforce NYS 6090-A. Complaints must be communicated by passengers to the NYS Commissioner of Motor Vehicles in writing. Since the DMV does not have enforcement staff to regulate Uber and Lyft in the field, the latter will, for practical purposes, be self-regulating.

That has not worked well in places where Uber and Lyft are already operating. In California, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania and other states, legislators are proposing amendments to existing regulations with the goal of providing better protection for the public. As expected, Uber and Lyft vigorously resist these belated common sense efforts.

If NYS Bill 6090-A is enacted in its present form, as it likely will be, municipalities will not have authority to enact regulations after State regulations fail to protect the public. Instead of jumping on the Uber-Lyft bandwagon, Mayor Myrick should have examined Bill 6090-A more closely. Had he done that, he would have realized that nullifying local authority to regulate Uber and Lyft may prove to be a decision that will have disastrous consequences.

Since NYS legislators have yet to vote on 6090-A, there is still time for Mayor Myrick to modify his position by insisting either that the Legislature enact a law that better protects the public or eliminate Section 2202(1) that preempts Ithaca from enacting regulations.


Refuting the Uber narrative

Mayor Myrick justified his support for Uber and Lyft by embracing the Uber and Lyft narrative that claims the presence of their services will:

  1. Re-energize local economies
  2. Give consumers greater choice
  3. Reduce car ownership
  4. Reduce fatalities from drunk driving

Available facts refute these claims.

1 – Economic impact

Uber and Lyft drivers earn, in all but the largest cities, between $9.00 and $12.00 per hour after deducting operating expenses (including fuel), taxes, and Uber and Lyft’s cut. These are not the well – paying jobs that can revitalize the economies of small or large cities. Mayor Myrick’s support for Bill 6090-A is puzzling in light of his stated position in favor of a living wage estimated at $15.00 per hour.

Also, Uber and Lyft drivers are excluded by law from receiving Social Security, Workers Compensation, unemployment insurance and disability benefits. So, Uber and Lyft create some low paying driver jobs (mainly part-time) that do not offer standard benefits or protections. These low paying, part-time jobs are symptoms of economic decline, not an upturn in an economy. To believe that Uber and Lyft jobs can make a difference in Ithaca and other small cities is wishful thinking of the highest order.

2 – Consumer choice

Uber and Lyft “taxi” service does expand consumer options. However, the options are limited because they are available to a part of the population that may not even comprise the largest part or the fastest growing part. Because Uber and Lyft customers must own a credit card with a positive balance, the option they provide is typically not available to a growing number of low or no income individuals in small and large urban areas.

In this way, discrimination is endemic in Uber and Lyft’s “modus operandi”. Uber and Lyft are highly selective in how they market their service. Their target population is well-to-do urban dwellers. Many poor individuals cannot access the service. And often it is they who need it the most.

3 – Car ownership

There is no evidence suggesting that Uber and Lyft’s presence is reducing car ownership in Ithaca or elsewhere. Car sales in Ithaca and nationally have surpassed the sales records for previous years. Even in Ithaca which has an above average public transportation system supplemented by an ambitious car-sharing service and an ample number of taxicabs, putting a dent in car ownership is proving to be a daunting task.

In many small cities like Utica, Rome and Hornell with weak public transportation systems, car ownership will remain a necessity that Uber and Lyft’s presence will not diminish in the foreseeable future.

4 – Drunk driving

Uber and Lyft and indirectly Mayor Myrick refer to a report by Professors Greenwood and Wattal, “Show Me The Way To Go Home: An Empirical Investigation of Ride-Sharing and Alcohol Related Vehicle Homicide” to support their claim that alcohol related driving fatalities decrease in cities where Uber operates.

However, Uber’s and Mayor Myrick’s claim is disingenuous and does not survive careful examination. According to Greenwood and Wattal, the data shows only a very weak link in small cities with populations between 50,000 and 250,000. Ithaca places at the bottom of this range. Perhaps, the link there is statistically insignificant. Greenwood and Wattal also conclude that there is no correlation during periods when surge pricing is in effect.

In Ithaca that would be when students party (and get drunk) Friday and Saturday nights. Since Lyft also has its own version of surge pricing, the same low or no link conclusion applies to its service.

The failure of Uber to gain traction in State College, PA which is college town with more students than Ithaca is instructive. There is simply too little demand for Uber, except during football games, for its service to maintain a fleet large enough to guarantee fast response time.

Fast response time is really the only thing that gives Uber a decisive advantage over taxicabs. Without that advantage, Uber in State College is just another imperfect taxicab service and not even the dominant one among several. Uber’s economic impact and link to declining deaths from drunk driving and to a decrease in car ownership has been zero in State College. Ithaca Mayor Myrick’s enthusiasm for Uber and Lyft’s promised positive effects in Ithaca is misplaced.


(Featured photo by Jason Lawrence from Flickr.)