Ride-sharing services including Uber and Lyft, which have operated on Long Island outside the control of local regulators, will be legal here for the first time beginning Thursday.
A new state law authorizing the services across New York State takes effect at 12:01 a.m. That will give local residents looking to hail a private vehicle using their smartphones increased travel options and quicker service responses.
To date, any Uber and Lyft vehicles seen in Nassau and Suffolk have been regulated only by New York City, with county and town authorities able to ticket them for illegal point-to-point rides within their borders.
Two years ago, Uber pulled out of East Hampton Town rather than follow local regulations for taxis and limousine companies. The company resisted similar efforts in Nassau County, where taxi companies have considerable political influence.
Under the new law, the state Department of Motor Vehicles is the sole regulatory authority for ride-sharing outside New York City. The city is exempt from the state law and will continue to oversee the services as commercial “for-hire” vehicles, also known as black cars.
On Wednesday, the eve of the statewide launch, Uber employees visited the Hicksville Long Island Rail Road station to hand out $50 credits to commuters, while Lyft offered $5 discounts to new customers.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced plans to mark the occasion Thursday in Huntington at a news conference with bar owners and anti-drunken driving activists.
“We are grateful for the warm welcome we have already received in communities across New York State,” said Jaime Raczka, Lyft’s regional director of new markets.
But some officials remain skeptical in Nassau.
The county’s Taxi & Limousine Commission last week recommended the county opt-out of the state law. The county could make the move at any time.
The lack of local authority was a sticking point for taxi company executives who lobbied Nassau and Suffolk to opt out of the state law before it took effect.
Suffolk was first to indicate it wouldn’t opt out. The Bellone administration said it was satisfied once state lawmakers closed a loophole that allowed the lowest tier sex offenders to drive for ride-sharing companies seven years after their convictions. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has yet to sign the bill addressing the loophole into law.
However, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and the county legislature say there is yet no consensus on whether that county will ultimately opt out.
Outside the city, the state DMV will require the companies to conduct their own background checks of drivers. The companies will have to examine drivers’ criminal and traffic violation history, but will not fingerprint.
New York City does its own background checks, including fingerprinting, for Uber and Lyft drivers under its for-hire vehicle regulations. Governments on Long Island, including towns, villages and cities, do the same as part of their licensing requirements for taxis and black cars.
However, a pending bill sponsored by two members of the Suffolk County Legislature’s Democratic majority, Bridget Fleming, of Noyac, and William Spencer, of Centerport, would place a six-month moratorium on ride-sharing and establish a committee to study the costs and benefits of the services. Fleming and Spencer have expressed concern that the services pay no money to counties and that drivers are exempt from fingerprinting and local regulations.
The Nassau TLC says the county shouldn’t ban Uber and Lyft. However, the agency says it should be able to regulate them as black cars, subjecting them to local registration and licensing requirements and charging fees that could provide Nassau with several hundred thousand dollars in new revenues each year.
Uber and Lyft say they should be able to operate on Long Island as they do in the majority of the United States outside New York City — as providers of privately owned and licensed vehicles. The companies said Wednesday that their city-licensed black cars will no longer make pickups on Long Island.
Nassau TLC Comissioner Gregory May said his department would continue to ticket city-registered vehicles making local pickups, as well as state-licensed ridesharing vehicles that don’t properly display a new sticker required by the state DMV.
The companies have suggested that if Nassau opted out of the state law to seek local regulations, they’d shut down their apps within county borders and run advertisements, in an election year, against the lawmakers who voted to take the services away.
At least for now, that will not occur.
With David M. Schwartz