Ridesharing services should expand upstate

Lyft and Uber may soon be expanding their operations beyond the five boroughs. The New York State Senate has passed a bill to allow the ridesharing companies to expand upstate. The only hurdle standing in its way is the decision of the State Assembly, which is currently held by a majority of Democrats. Gov. Andrew Cuomo supports the expansion.

Other supporters of the legislation say that the expansion would bring convenience to upstate cities like Albany, Buffalo and Rochester.  Additionally, proponents hope that this will reduce the epidemic of drunken driving.

Detractors of the bill accuse legislators of bending a knee to Uber’s high-priced lobbyists. The head of the Upstate Transportation Association wants to obtain fingerprints from future Lyft and Uber drivers.

This is already the case for Lyft and Uber drivers in New York City and for most taxi companies as well. However, Uber contends that this law will flag people who were arrested but later exonerated.  Lyft and Uber left Austin, Texas, because of fingerprint requirements and are pushing back on state-required fingerprinting.

Police chiefs have been calling for this expansion for a while now. Upstate New York accounts for 51 percent of all licensed drivers in New York, as well as for 65 percent impaired driving arrests. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, in 2013 alone there were 311 drunken driving fatalities, 6,019 alcohol related crash injuries, 8,368 related crashes and over 28,000 DUI arrests, just in the state of New York.

Many people believe that ridesharing provided by Uber and Lyft would help control this problem, since drivers would have an alternative for getting themselves home as opposed to driving while under the influence. The data, unfortunately, does not support this claim.

Researchers from the University of Southern California and Oxford University analyzed data from 100 metropolitan cities before and after the introduction of Lyft and Uber. They found that these ridesharing apps had no effect on traffic deaths related to drunken driving.

Despite the lack of evidence, Uber claims that its ridesharing program can lower drunken driving incidents. The authors of this study said, “It is also possible that many drunk drivers rationally conclude that it is too costly to pay for an Uber ride (or taxi)."

This bill has been blocked before by the taxi industry, most likely because Lyft and Uber have gutted taxi industries in other states. Los Angeles Times reported that taxi trips have fallen by nearly 30 percent since the introduction of Uber and Lyft in LA. In San Francisco, the largest taxi company, Yellow Cab, has filed for bankruptcy.

While neither Lyft nor Uber can really reduce drunken driving incidents for the time being, they should still be allowed to expand their operations. Taxi companies are afraid of these new competitors, with whom they cannot compete. However, this is the free market at work: people will choose the better service. In most cities, Lyft and Uber will be more convenient than a big, vintage, yellow taxi.