Uber: Local control of regulations could strangle Long Island business

Uber: Local control of regulations could strangle Long Island business


Uber: Local control of regulations could strangle Long Island business

As lawmakers attempt to hammer out a final agreement to bring ride-hailing companies to upstate and Long Island, the Assembly has staked out its position: That local governments should have the power to regulate certain aspects of the services, rather than just having one single, statewide set of rules.

But in the two counties on Long Island, that might be a threat to the viability of companies like Uber and Lyft, Uber officials charge.

As an April 1 budget deadline looms, the company says the boards set up to oversee ride-hailing in Suffolk and Nassau counties are stacked with taxi and limousine owners — the very people that are Uber and Lyft’s direct business competitors.

Uber favors a statewide regulatory framework for ride sharing.

“When the regulator and local taxi interests are one and the same no one should be surprised that they are both working vigorously to block potential competition from ride sharing,” said Uber’s New York director, Josh Gold.

The local regulations created could be so onerous that drivers would not financially be able to work with the company, Gold said.

But Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, a key figure in the debate as the Insurance Committee chairman and the Assembly’s prime sponsor of its ride-hailing bill, dismissed Uber’s argument.

Cahill said the board members of the Taxi and Limousine Commissions in Suffolk and Nassau are in advisory positions. While the boards do vote to make recommendations, the final decisions about regulations are ultimately made by the two Nassau and Suffolk TLC Commissioners, who are appointed by the counties’ executives.

“Our understanding is that they simply provide nonbinding advice,” Cahill said.

Cahill supports allowing local governments to impose fees and taxes, and to impose higher security levels and inspection requirements.

One of the people who has been on the Taxi and Limousine Commission in Nassau County is Larry Blessinger, who is vice president of six taxi and limo companies in Nassau and also the president of Nassau & Suffolk Taxi Owners Association.

In addition to wearing those hats, Blessinger hired a high-powered lobbying firm to influence the Albany legislation that he would then be charged with overseeing in an advisory capacity.

Records show that in March 2016, Blessinger signed a $5,000-a-month lobbying contract on behalf of the Nassau & Suffolk Taxi Owners Association with Park Strategies, the firm founded by former U.S. Sen. Al D’Amato.

Neither Blessinger nor Park Strategies returned requests for comment.

Cahill said he had not met about ride-hailing with either Park Strategies officials nor Blessinger.

In Suffolk County, four of the seven Taxi & Limousine Commission board members work for transportation companies.

In Nassau County, three of the eight board members work for taxi or limo interests, and a fourth was a banker who managed Capital One’s $1.5 billion National Taxi Medallion Finance Specialty program. One spot is unfilled. The county executive’s office appoints four of the nine members.

Both the Nassau and Suffolk County Taxi & Limousine Commissions were created in 2014.

In Nassau, the plan to create a regulatory agency was pushed by its county executive, Ed Mangano.

In March, deputy county executives from Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties wrote a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders asking that in these counties — which have established Taxi & Limousine Commissions — those commissions should have the authority to regulate ride-hailing companies.

Suffolk and Nassau Taxi and Limousine commissioners or their companies have given tens of thousands of dollars to Mangano, according to campaign finance records.

Mangano is currently facing indictment in an unrelated federal bribery case.

Local control of ride-hailing is in the Democrat-controlled Assembly’s bill, but not the Republican-controlled Senate’s. Cahill said the Cuomo administration appears to favor having a statewide regulatory framework, rather than the local approach.

Cahill said creating statewide regulations would be an anomaly compared to a dozen of the other biggest states across the country where ride-hailing is legal. Cahill also said statewide regulations would strangle the prospects of the Capital District Transportation Authority overseeing ride-hailing in the Capital Region.

Uber “certainly wants a dumbed-down version of statewide uniform regulation,” he said.

As for whether companies like Uber or Lyft could potentially be strangled by local regulations — and politicians that get campaign contributions from competitors — Cahill said the risk was no greater than in any other industry. Uber itself has spent heavily lobbying on the bill.

“We should be making rules that are in the best interests of our communities,” Cahill said.

cbragg@timesunion.com 518-454-5303 @chrisbragg1

Source: Times Union
Uber: Local control of regulations could strangle Long Island business

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