SARATOGA SPRINGS - More than 60 people packed into the back room of the Parting Glass Pub on Tuesday night, January 11, as a heated debate ensued over the future of ridesharing services like Uber in upstate New York, and what they will mean for Saratoga’s safety and economy.
The event, hosted by The Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, was well attended by members of their Young Professionals Network, business owners, Uber advocates, and local cab drivers, in anticipation of changing legislation that will determine the future of ridesharing in the capital region.
A lively open mic indicated an overall level of dissatisfaction with local cab service as speakers voiced complaints about "nightmarish" wait times, inconsistent fares, and lack of accountability. Public safety, however, was the dominant theme for both sides.
"The modern day DWI is a crucifixion that will end your career," warned Vic Christopher, a restaurateur in Troy and Uber advocate. "You will never recover." He admitted that his biggest anxiety as a business owner is trying to call a cab for a customer and experiencing excessive wait times or no answer at all.
The relationship between drunk-driving incidents and ridesharing looks promising, with Uber-friendly cities seeing a decline in alcohol-related incidents. A study by Temple University concluded that the state of California experienced a 3.6 to 5.6 percent decrease in the rate of motor vehicle homicides per quarter after Uber entered the market.
Uber drivers themselves, of which there could be around 700 in the Albany area if legislation allows, were also a safety concern, since traditional taxicab drivers must undergo criminal background checks. According to Uber's website, the screening process includes a driving and criminal history check that covers county, federal, and multi-state databases.
Access to safe and hassle-free transportation will also stimulate the economy, one speaker pointed out. She noted how a shortage of parking spaces downtown deters some people from visiting, but that a safe, convenient service like Uber would encourage more people to visit local businesses and network.
Insurance coverage was another hot topic, with questions about how drivers, who use their own vehicles when on duty, will get sufficient accident and liability coverage that will include their passengers.
Patrick Cantillon, who owns All City Taxi in Saratoga Springs, argued that Uber will have an unfair advantage over cab companies who are required to pay around $2,300 per driver, per year in insurance, registration, and other fees. “All we want is a level playing field,” he said.
“Every effort is being made to ensure the rules are fair,” said Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce President, Todd Shimkus, who believes legislation allowing ridesharing in the capital region is likely to pass this year. In the meantime, he urges residents to educate themselves and share experiences to determine what businesses like Uber and Lyft might mean for Saratoga. For more information on Uber, visit Uber.com.