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Uber drivers protest Suffolk’s proposed ride-sharing ban

A Suffolk legislative committee met to discuss imposing

A Suffolk legislative committee met to discuss imposing a moratorium on ride-sharing services in the county, on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018 in Hauppauge.  Credit: Barry Sloan

More than 80 Uber drivers protested Monday a proposed six-month Suffolk ban on ride-sharing operators as a way for the county to leverage a local share of $24 million in revenue from the 4 percent state surcharge on ridesharing.

After 90 minutes of often-emotional testimony, the public works committee voted 4-2 to send the measure to the full 18-member legislature but lawmakers did not take a formal position on the merits of a moratorium. Sponsor Legis. Bridget Fleming (D-Noyac) also promised not to seek a vote on the moratorium at the full legislature’s next meeting March 6.

More than two dozen drivers spoke against Fleming’s bill, saying the service is highly popular with the public and the jobs help them feed their families, avoid foreclosure and provide safe transit to those who have been drinking and elderly who need help.

“I have not one point on my license, a clean background and I am a safe driver,” said Bobby Smith of Bay Shore. “Without ride sharing, people on Long Island are going to lose their jobs and people are going to drive drunk.”

Fleming, who first proposed the bill last year, reintroduced it in January in an effort to press for a share of the surcharge that goes to the state from ride-sharing fees. Suffolk this year had to axe nine bus routes for lack of county funding.

The only leverage the county has to try and get a portion of the surcharge is to formally opt out of permitting ride sharing for six months, thereby depriving the state of the revenue from Suffolk riders altogether.

“I’m trying to restart the conversation,” said Fleming, who said she plans to go to Albany to lobby next week amid talks for the state budget due April 1. State Sen. John Brooks (D- Massapeaqua) has already proposed a bill to share the revenues.

Josh Gold, Uber’s director of state policy, said he was disappointed by the committee’s action but encouraged they are willing to “continue the conversation.”

He also warned: “Banning Uber is the wrong way to pressure Albany,” vowing a direct mail, phone and digital campaign to ensure the public knows lawmakers’ action “would make Suffolk County the only place in the country with an Uber ban.”

Uber currently has more than 7,000 Suffolk drivers and carries 60,000 passengers regularly, according to company officials. Uber officials added under Brooks’ bill Suffolk’s share might be as little as $1.5 million.

The Long Island Limousine Association backed the measure calling for a “level playing field” with limos and taxis on security issues such as background checks of drivers.

Ryan McGarry, a lobbyist for the Suffolk’s Association of Municipal Employees, favored the effort to get more state money.

While Fleming sought approval for her proposal, Legis. Tom Cilmi moved to table it and Legis. Susan Berland (D-Dix Hills) said she could not back any ban. That led to the compromise to send the measure to the full legislature without recommendation.

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