Cahill, Seward wield dueling bills to legalize ride-hailing upstate

Two state lawmakers representing parts of Ulster County are again playing key roles in the prolonged push to legalize Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing services upstate, each as chairman of an insurance committee and sponsor of a bill laying out the rules for how those companies would operate in New York.

Sen. James Seward

The version introduced by Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, already sailed through the Senate in a 55-5 vote on Feb. 6. Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, D-Kingston, wheeled out his proposal on March 10. Both men also carried versions of the legislation last year, but the two chambers failed to reconcile differences over levels of liability insurance that ride-hailing companies would be required to carry for their drivers, among other differences. Uber blitzed the state with ads in vain late in the year to push for a legislative deal.

The two bills introduced this year still differ on insurance coverage, with the Assembly bill requiring higher levels. Cahill’s bill, A6661, would demand policies that provide at least $75,000 per person and $150,000 per incident for death and injury, plus $200,000 “excess liability” when a driver is logged in but has not yet agreed to give a ride and $1.5 million once the driver is headed to a pickup or has a passenger aboard.

Seward’s bill, S4159, would require coverage of $50,000 per per person or $100,000 per incident when a driver is logged in but not driving anyone, and $1 million while the driver is transporting a passenger.

There is also a sharp divide on how much rides would be taxed. Seward wants to waive sales tax but charge a 2 percent tax per ride, with half of the revenue going to the state for transportation projects and half going to county governments for mass transit programs. Cahill’s bill would simply apply the local sales tax rate, which is 8.125 percent in Orange County and 8 percent in Sullivan and Ulster.

Still another option is the 5.5 percent tax Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed in his budget this year.

Assemblyman Kevin Cahill

Another potential sticking point is whether the legislation will allow municipalities like Newburgh and Monticello to license and regulate ride-hailing companies in the same way that they now do taxi companies. Cahill’s bill would grant that authority, specifying that municipalities can decide how many ride-hailing drivers can operate in their jurisdiction; it’s unclear if the Senate bill would allow or prohibit local regulations.

A vocal counterweight in Uber’s full-court press to expand throughout New York – ride-sharing currently is legal only in New York City – has been the Upstate Transportation Association, a voice for upstate cab companies. The association has demanded, for instance, that the legislation specify that criminal background checks of drivers include fingerprinting. More recently it has called out Uber for revelations that it had used “greyballing” tactics to evade authorities in places where it operates illegally.

The Times Herald-Record found first-hand that Uber allows its drivers to collect fares illegally right here in the Mid-Hudson.

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    Chris McKenna covers Orange County government and politics for the Times Herald-Record. He has been a reporter at the newspaper since 1999. Read Full

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