Editor’s Note: Andy Bazzo is a regular columnist in our sister papers, Yorktown News and Mahopac News. Because of his expertise on the subject of taxis, we felt it appropriate to share his column this week with the readers of Somers.
The New York Legislature voted to allow ride-sharing apps Uber and Lyft to operate outside of New York City. Our own state Sen. Terrence Murphy was a yes vote.
Full disclosure: I am part owner of a taxi company licensed by the city of Peekskill. Our rules are in compliance with the Westchester County Taxi and Limousine Commission. This is so we do not need dual licenses to operate at Westchester Airport and Westchester Medical Center. A special thanks to County Legislators Michael Kaplowitz and John Testa, as well County Executive Rob Astorino, for making that happen. Uber and Lyft’s business model does not affect my business model.
There is nothing Uber and Lyft offer that a Westchester taxi cannot offer. Most municipalities that do not themselves offer to license taxis require them to be licensed by Taxi and Limousine Commission, Yorktown being one. This is because to receive a license to drive and/or own a taxi, one must submit to a fingerprint test and a drug test. Autos must also pass inspection once a year. In Peekskill, it is twice. These measures are to ensure passenger safety. Under present law, with Uber and Lyft, it is optional. Either local police or county police monitor Westchester taxis to make sure they are in compliance. Under present law, with Uber and Lyft, this falls to the New York Department of Motor Vehicles.
Here is the difference: If a local taxi is arrested for a narcotics infraction, local licensing police are notified immediately and their license is automatically suspended. That driver will not get a Westchester taxi license, either locally or through the county. This would not happen with Uber or Lyft. It would take weeks, if not months, for this to happen. A driver in this situation, until their mater is adjudicated, can go to another county and get livery plates so long as they have an active class E license. This, too, has happened.
A Westchester taxi must have taxi insurance. Uber and Lyft does not. Westchester County officials believed they could reject rules hashed out by the state Department of Motor Vehicles that govern companies like Uber and Lyft in favor of their own that they say would boost safety, especially by requiring fingerprint background checks. However, the law passed by the state prevents county-level ride-hailing laws. Because of this state law, the only thing our county executive could achieve is Uber and Lyft to do fingerprinting on an optional basis.
According to a June 26 in the Journal News, Uber NY Senior Policy Manager Josh Gold said, “Fingerprinting…was not appropriate for employment background checks, citing a letter from former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. He said the current system of name-based background checks from an accredited third party, coupled with the app’s safety functionality, was enough.”
Ask any licensing official, it is not! Westchester can and should opt out. There is no shortage of taxis in Westchester. There is no upside.
As for Putnam, that is another matter. They have no licensing entities. Putnam taxis, Uber and Lyft would all be on equal footing except for insurance. If Putnam wants it, let them have it. People already have no idea if their driver has a record or the taxi has insurance that is in force. It is an issue that does not seem to concern them.