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Ride-hailing services in New York may come even sooner than expected

New York State Senate

The state is one step closer to having ride-hailing services available before the Fourth of July, now that the state Senate has passed a bill to speed up when companies like Uber and Lyft will be allowed to operate in upstate New York.

When state lawmakers agreed to allow the companies to operate outside New York City as part of the budget, they thought that they would pass the legislation by April 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

Traditionally, there’s a 90-day grace period before a law actually takes effect. So the ride-hailing services would, in theory, be able to start offering rides on July 1.

But the budget was late — it didn’t pass until April 9, so the new law allowing the services to begin won’t take effect until July 9.

Some legislators, including many in western New York, got pushback from constituents, as well as the companies, to amend the bill to allow it to take effect earlier.

The Senate approved a measure to allow the services to begin as early as June 29. Sen. Mike Ranzenhofer, a Republican from the Buffalo area, sponsored the bill in the Senate.

“Today’s legislation will bring ride-sharing in New York that much closer,” Ranzenhofer said.

Sen. Tim Kennedy, a Democrat who is also from the Buffalo region, argues that having ride-hailing services available during the busy July 4 long holiday weekend could cut down on drunken driving and potentially save lives.

“If we can prevent even one individual from getting behind the wheel of his or her car and prevent even one disaster,” Kennedy said, “then this bill is well worth it.”

Supporters, as well as the companies, claim that the services reduce drunken driving, but there has been no solid evidence to back up that claim.

The measure was approved, 60-0.

The bill is expected to pass the Assembly before Memorial Day. It’s sponsored by Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, a Democrat from the Hudson Valley area. Gov. Andrew Cuomo was a supporter of the initial legislation to expand ride-hailing outside of New York City and is expected to sign the measure once it’s approved in both houses.

A statement from Uber said the company plans to launch some of its services as early as June 29, saying they have been “waiting years to bring ride-sharing services to New York state.”

The rest of the original law won’t change, though. Prospective drivers will be subject to a criminal background check, and taxes will be charged to riders at a rate of 6.5 percent per transaction.

Cities or counties with more than 100,000 people can opt out of allowing the companies to operate in their municipalities, but so far, no one has said they want to ban the service. A recent poll found that 75 percent of the public want ride-hailing to begin, and soon.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.