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Long Island

Ride-sharing kicks off in Nassau, Suffolk

Lois Carter of Brentwood gets ready to

Lois Carter of Brentwood gets ready to take her first drive as an Uber driver as the service becomes legal in Suffolk County, Thursday June 30, 2017. Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

Ride-sharing services including Uber and Lyft hit the road legally Thursday in Nassau and Suffolk in time for the July Fourth holiday weekend.

A new law authorizing the services to operate statewide took effect Thursday, giving Long Island residents the opportunity to hail private vehicles from their smartphones.

Until now, the only Uber and Lyft vehicles operating in Nassau and Suffolk were regulated by New York City, and county and town officials could ticket them for illegal point-to-point rides within their borders.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said ride sharing would bring new “economic opportunities, jobs and a cost-effective transportation alternative” to residents across the state.

“For far too long, upstate and Long Island residents unfairly faced artificial barriers that denied them access to these services, which was an unacceptable affront to the spirit of innovation that drives New York,” Cuomo said in a statement.

In Huntington Thursday, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said ride sharing could save lives during a long holiday weekend.

In 2016, Nassau and Suffolk police charged 105 people with driving while drunk or under the influence of drugs and alcohol during the Fourth of July weekend.

“Today there is really no excuse,” Bellone said at a news conference with anti-DWI advocates. “We’ve never had the variety of transportation options that we have today. And ride sharing is a huge component of that.”

However, Nassau’s Taxi & Limousine Commission has recommended that the county opt out of the state law and move to regulate the industry. The panel wants Nassau to drug test and fingerprint drivers and charge them licensing fees, as the county does with taxis and other traditional for-hire vehicles.

Uber and Lyft have threatened to pull out of Nassau if County Executive Edward Mangano follows the recommendation.

Mangano and the GOP-controlled county legislature said there is no agreement on whether the county will eventually opt-out, which it can do at any time.

Lois Carter, 43, of Brentwood signed up recently to drive for Uber, hoping to earn extra money to spend on her children this summer while also working on her own schedule. “It just seemed like a good fit,” Carter said.

The ride-sharing launch came as Cuomo signed legislation co-sponsored by state Sen. Tom Croci (R-Sayville) that bars Level 1 sex offenders, the lowest tier, from driving for ride-sharing services. They had been allowed to begin driving seven years after a conviction or completion of a prison sentence.

Larry Blessinger, who runs several taxi and limousine companies and serves as president of the Nassau & Suffolk Taxi owners Association, declined to comment Thursday on the ride sharing launch. Blessinger, a vocal opponent of ride sharing, has suggested that his drivers could strike if the law went into effect.

Uber and Lyft declined to provide details on the number of fares their drivers made Thursday or the number of times their apps were downloaded in Nassau or Suffolk.

“By expanding our reach into Long Island, Westchester and the Hudson Valley, we’re able to create a more seamless experience for passengers traveling within the New York metro area,” said Vipul Patel, general manager of Lyft New York.

Uber spokeswoman Alix Anfang said “New Yorkers have been demanding ride-sharing in their communities for years and our leaders have delivered, ensuring that starting this holiday weekend, residents and visitors will always have an affordable, reliable ride.”

Uber officials said their first Long Island trip began at 12:09 a.m. Thursday, from Babylon to the Mastic-Shirley Long Island Rail Road station. The longest Long Island trip as of midafternoon was from the Speonk LIRR station to Manhattan.

TLC Commissioner Gregory May said his enforcement officers would be out Thursday night issuing tickets to city-registered vehicles making local pickups and to state licensed ride-sharing vehicles that fail to properly display a new sticker mandated by the state DMV.

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