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NY law legalizing ride-sharing services prompts concerns in Nassau

A driver displaying Lyft and Uber stickers on

A driver displaying Lyft and Uber stickers on his front windshield drops off a customer in downtown Los Angeles on Jan. 12, 2016. Credit: AP

The head of Nassau’s Taxi & Limousine Commission said Wednesday he had significant concerns about a state law that will soon legalize ride-sharing in the county and across New York, but stopped short of saying whether he’ll recommend a controversial “opt out.”

Gregory May, commissioner of the county TLC, the department regulating for-hire vehicles, spoke at a meeting of the commission’s advisory board dominated by discussion of pending statewide authorization of services such as Uber and Lyft.

The companies, now regulated only in New York City, can operate in Nassau starting June 29. Counties can opt out any time by legislative vote.

May is writing a report to County Executive Edward Mangano, expected Friday, that will include his recommendation. Mangano, a Republican, and the GOP-controlled county legislature, will then decide.

On Wednesday, May told the advisory board he was concerned with the lack of regulatory power his department would have over ride-sharing vehicles. The state Department of Motor Vehicles will oversee the services outside of New York City, leaving the counties, towns and villages that traditionally license and register for-hire vehicles without a say — and unable to reap any revenue from them.

“Unfortunately, the purpose of the state law was to get around local licensing rules and regulations,” May said.

Ride-sharing services already operate on Long Island but can be ticketed by county or local governments if caught.

Last year, the Nassau TLC issued 4,884 violations to for-hire vehicles operating illegally in Nassau. Almost all went to New York City licensed ride-sharing vehicles.

Under the state law, the DMV will license ride-share companies and the companies will issue permits to drivers. May said he now can contact companies on behalf of customers with complaints, but worried the DMV won’t be as responsive.

“That’s a pretty significant concern we have right now,” May said.

The DMV has said residents “can expect robust and safe ride-sharing options offered by companies that are authorized and overseen by” the state.

Uber and Lyft say their services will be “thoroughly” regulated by DMV, which requires them to conduct their own background checks of drivers. Polls have shown wide support for suburban ride-sharing, and Nassau County executive candidates have embraced it.

But Nassau’s TLC advisory board, including owners of taxi and livery companies, struck a decidedly different tone Wednesday. Six of the board’s eight members were present, and the five who spoke all criticized the state law.

They complained that DMV won’t be conducting its own fingerprint background checks on drivers and said local cab companies may no longer be able to afford offering heavily discounted rides to seniors.

“We have hands-on control of the safety of [taxis] in our area,” said Farmingdale Village Mayor Ralph Ekstrand, who was appointed to the board on the recommendation of the legislature’s GOP majority. “As a mayor, I feel that this will be taken away if [ride-sharing] comes into being.”

Members of the TLC’s advisory board with taxi company ties have given Mangano’s campaign nearly $20,000 since 2010, records show. They argue, however, that their concerns are about safety and local control rather than their bottom lines.

“They should have to come in and follow the rules of Nassau County,” said board chairman Larry Blessinger Jr., who runs local cab companies.

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