ITHACA, N.Y. – Nearly a dozen community members gathered before local legislators during a committee meeting on Monday morning, each bringing their own argument for or against ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, which are slated to move into Ithaca as early as this Friday.
The Senate and Assembly approved a bill earlier this month, allowing ride-hailing services to begin their services in Upstate New York by June 29. While transportation methods like Uber and Lyft are scheduled to start by the end of the week, their soon-to-be presence is still met with controversy.
Local taxi drivers stood before Tompkins County legislators on Monday morning to defend themselves against ride-sharing services. Gary Lewis, a manager at Ithaca Dispatch – a local cab company – was the first to begin, discussing the company’s vetting routines.
“It is part of my job at Ithaca Dispatch to put our drivers through a very rigorous program to make sure they’re safe enough to drive our cars,” Lewis said. “When they come through our training program, they are taught exactly what it takes to become the perfect cab driver and the safest cab driver.”
Lewis added that as part of his job, he was in charge of making sure drivers were up to date with their city licenses, passport photos, physicals and background checks.
“What are we going to get from Uber and Lyft? Maybe a rapist we don’t know about…maybe a murderer we don’t know about….maybe someone with a felonious record,” Lewis said. “With a cab driver, we know all these things – you’re going to know where they’ve been and what goes on, and if they’re not safe, they get denied – I take them out of the car.”
However, despite his arguments, Lewis was met with opposition from multiple local community members, hotel management and employees of colleges and universities, all who unanimously agreed that taxi companies in the city don’t live up to expected standards.
Cara Rosenberg Nichols, who works in the Office of Admission at Ithaca College, shared a story of a prospective student, who recently made the trip to Ithaca from a more urban area.
Nichols said the young man was eager to visit Ithaca, and had heard Ithaca College was going to be a perfect fit. He and his mother, who arrived on a bus, proceeded to call a cab from the bus station to campus, where they waited 45 minutes.
“In that 45 minutes, the prospective student made up his mind that Ithaca College was not the place for him because he already felt isolated and couldn’t even make it up to our campus in a timely fashion,” Nichols said. “I wish that this was a unique situation, but it’s not – It happens all the time.”
Several stories were shared, all bringing up similar issues with local cab-companies – the general consensus being that they are simply, unreliable.
Two local hotel representatives spoke, both sharing instances where cab drivers have shown up to hotel’s smoking cigarettes, visibly under the influence, more than 20 minutes late or not at all.
Teri Tarshus, a representative from the Hilton Garden Inn, recalled one instance where it took six calls to a cab company to transport two guests to Elmira.
“I will quote what I was told – I was told that they do not care about hotel guests. Hotel guests are a one-and-done deal, and they care about local people,” Tarshus said. “ I care about my guests – my guests bring in a heck of a lot of tax-paying dollars to this community. This reaches outside of Tompkins County, it reaches outside our state and our country.”
Julie Holcomb, Ithaca’s City Clerk, said the key may be in ‘finding a balance’ between local cab companies and new ride-hailing services.
“We certainly value our local cab companies and we want to support them, but at the same time we want to support ride-sharing alternatives,” Holcomb said, also noting that Mayor Svante Myrick has been very supportive of bringing Uber and Lyft to Ithaca.
While legislators mulled over whether or not the installation of new ride-sharing services is in need of some more thought, the general feeling in the room was similar to Holcomb’s – perhaps competition will improve modes of transportation throughout the city.
Meanwhile, Uber and Lyft are scheduled to hit the roads in Ithaca as soon as this Friday.