Uber, Lyft Begin Trial Period in Ithaca

Uber and Lyft have finally hit the streets of Ithaca — though they may not be here to stay.

As of June 29, Ithaca residents have access to the ridesharing platforms following their authorization by state legislation, according to a press release for Tompkins County. The press release said that legislation — approved in early June — permits the apps to expand to upstate New York. Counties like Tompkins with a population of 100,000 or more have the option to opt-out from permitting the services at any time.

Transportation Committee Vice Chair Dave McKenna said the apps will have to go through a “de facto” trial period.

“At this point there’s enough people here that want it and I think we need to give it a trial period to see how it all shakes out, see how it affects local companies,” McKenna told The Sun. “I’m hoping it forces everyone to step up a bit but not put anyone out of business.”

Chair of the County Legislature Mike Lane said the services will be reviewed “continually” and discussed at monthly Transportation Committee meetings.

Ithaca City Clerk Julie Holcomb also stated the City of Ithaca will be monitoring for effects on local companies.

“We are going to be monitoring this very closely. We already have open lines of communication with companies like Ithaca Dispatch,” said Holcomb, adding that she will meet with Ithaca Dispatch principal owner John Kadar this week to discuss changing existing legislation.

The apps’ arrival comes a few days after the county legislature’s Transportation Committee met to discuss the entry of such services. Ten speakers, expressing views both positive and negative, voiced their opinions, according to a county news release.

Chamber of Commerce Vice President Peggy Coleman claimed the city is at a “competitive disadvantage” without such services, according to the report.

Local representatives of “two lodging establishments and a college admissions office” also noted poor service from the existing transportation companies. Airport Director Mike Hall complained of a “chronic ground transportation challenge at the Airport.”

Conversely, employees of Ithaca Dispatch, Tompkins’s largest taxi provider, noted the “safe, vetted, and locally committed service from existing operators, something they maintained cannot be assured from Uber or Lyft,” according to the report.

Kadar asked the Transportation Committee to opt-out of the legislation to provide “breathing space” for the local companies. He also claimed Uber and Lyft deploy a “predatory pricing blitz” to undercut local providers, according to the report.

The Ithaca Journal reported back in May that the governor’s office says the state budget will establish “a statewide task force to study and deliver recommendations on accessibility needs to protect and provide transportation to vulnerable populations” and that mandatory background checks would be established for all drivers.

“We’ll see how Cornell, Ithaca College, the hotels, and others feel about it for when we decide we want to go back and reevaluate,” McKenna said, expressing hope that the services will improve transportation times and that the committee will no opt-out, but maintained the results remain to be seen.

“Ithaca is a small town, it’s not New York City,” he added. “We’re not sure how it’s going to go here.”

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