October 22, 2021

City of Cortland, ride-share companies at odds

Kevin Conlon/contributing photographer

The city has put ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft on notice: Follow city code or get out. Now Uber is firing back, citing state law.

The Cortland City Police Department is sending a message to ride-sharing companies: If they don’t follow city code, then they can’t operate here.

However, one company is firing back, citing a state law that says a municpality cannot impose other conditions in addition to state regulations on companies like Uber and Lyft.

Deputy Police Chief Paul Sandy said the department is re-issuing a public notice to the companies. “Ride-share companies have to comply with the taxi laws,” he said.

“To be clear, however, New York State law does not currently allow cities of fewer than 100,000 residents to opt out of the regulations and Cortland has fewer than 50,000 residents,” wrote spokesman Harry Hartfield of the San Francisco-based Uber.

Under the state’s Vehicle and Traffic Law, Article 44B, subsection 1700, no county, town, city or village may enact restrictions or limits against transportation network companies, ride-share companies like Uber and Lyft, except in cases where agreements limit transportation at municipal airports.

In the city, any motor vehicle regularly used in the business of transporting people for hire within the city, except buses, is considered a taxi under the law, according to city code.

Sandy said ride-sharing companies, like Uber and Lyft, must follow the law. However, Sandy said they aren’t complying with the fee structure, which includes:
• A $5 basic rate.
• $3 for people 60 or older
• 40 cents per minute for waiting time.
• 50 cents for people under 18.

It’s all in an effort to stop price gouging, Sandy said.

“We struggle by abiding by local prices, and taxi licensing laws, and it constrains our ability to staff properly, and pay drivers enough,” wrote Paul Kriegstein, owner of Collegetown Cab. “Given the hardship we endure to maintain operations, it would seem completely unfair for a direct competitor to skirt the same enforcement.”

Without having to follow the same rules, Uber and Lyft would be at an advantage in Cortland, so Kriegstein supports equal enforcement.

In March 2017, the city began looking into amending the local law to allow for the ride-sharing companies. In May 2017, the changes were sent to Albany and approved by state lawmakers, Sandy said.

Then the state law was adopted a month later. Its other stipulations include exceptions allowed under Municipal Law section 182 — but those apply only to cities or counties with a population greater than 100,000.

“Since June 2017, Lyft and other rideshare companies have operated across New York State under a comprehensive law for Transportation Network Companies,” wrote Campbell Matthews, a Lyft spokeswoman. “This ensures that drivers and riders can rely on affordable and reliable transportation throughout the region. We’re thrilled to be available to those who were previously underserved by taxis and transit, while providing flexible earning opportunities for those who drive with Lyft.”

Sandy said the companies can operate within the county and even drop people off within the city limits. However, they can’t pick people up or transport them within the city limits.

“We want to work with Cortland to ensure that drivers are able to earn a living and riders who depend on services like Uber are not left stranded,” Hartfield wrote.