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As upstate ride-hailing gets ready, some want Syracuse to opt out

Tom Magnarelli
Jacques Zenner explains his position on ride-hailing to the Syracuse Common Council.

Ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft will be allowed to operate in upstate New York starting June 29th. But some in Syracuse want the city to opt out. 

A provision in the state law gives cities and counties with more than 100,000 people the option to deny Uber and Lyft operations. That’s what Syracuse Independent Taxi Association Vice President Jacques Zenner wants the Syracuse Common Council to do for the city.

“What I’m asking is for the transportation committee to meet with us, certain people from the taxi cab industry, and talk about how we’re going to level the playing field here,” Zenner said.

Zenner has two points of contention. One is that he said level 1 sex offenders, the lowest level in New York, will be allowed to drive for ride-hailing services. That’s true but offenders would have to wait seven years. For felons who want to drive a cab, the wait is 10 years. Plus, there is a bill in Albany to prohibit all sex offenders from driving for ride-hailing.

The other point is that while cabs pay $350 a year, per car, to the city of Syracuse, Uber and Lyft drivers will pay nothing. And that money can add up. With 225 cabs in Syracuse it equals to more than $75,000. Also, Zenner said the city currently has too many taxis.

“So we’re already strangled, so you add the Uber, and it’s going to create hardships,” Zenner said. "Why do we need them? We don't need them in Syracuse."

An Uber spokesperson said the state is mandating insurance on ride hailing vehicles that is 20 times higher than what cabs pay. At least two Syracuse councilors expressed skepticism in continuing the ban on Uber with Councilor Khalid Bey saying, “Nothing short of a public health risk, allows us to deny free enterprise.”

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.