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Is Shelter Island Uber-ready? Ride-hailing services could be rolling soon

STOCK IMAGE App driven ride-hailing services might be on the way to Shelter Island.
STOCK IMAGE App driven ride-hailing services might be on the way to Shelter Island.

Bringing services such as Uber or Lyft to Shelter Island will be accompanied by a debate.

There currently is no law on the books concerning these services — sometimes called ride-sharing or ride-hailing. But according to Town Attorney Laury Dowd, a public hearing would have to take place before the Town Board voted on a law to cover the services.

Supervisor Jim Dougherty was noncommittal, saying, “I want to keep an open mind until I see all the facts.”

The services use a location-based app for customers that provides private drivers for short hauls, sending the nearest driver to a designated pickup location, usually within minutes. Uber drivers must be at least 21 and own or have access to a four-door vehicle in good condition. The actual model and year requirements vary by location, but the car cannot be older than 2006.

Unlike the typical yellow taxi of New York City, Uber’s cars are as eclectic as their drivers, due to minimal requirements.

Uber and Lyft are set to legally hit the streets in Suffolk County on June 29. The county had previously banned these companies under a law requiring car services to have local offices.

According to the Suffolk Times, New York State legislation now allows companies such as Uber to be regulated through the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

“Extending ride-sharing across New York is a matter of fairness that brings new transportation options and — with it — new economic opportunity and innovation,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement last week. “This framework provides for a fair, safe and comprehensive ride-sharing system that will benefit communities in every corner of this state.”

One concern is the effect Uber or Lyft would have on Island taxi companies. Shelter Island Go-Fors, a family-run business, is regulated through the Suffolk County Taxi & Limousine Commission. John Kaasik, a driver for 25 years at the company, expressed his openness to Uber coming on-Island. “That’s the way free enterprise works,” he said. “I shouldn’t have some sort of protected market where my competition isn’t allowed.”

Chief James Read of the Shelter Island Police Department expressed support of any car service that would help prevent driving under the influence. “A person who calls a cab, car service or gets a ride when they’ve been drinking, is not only doing the right thing, they are also reducing the instances of driving while intoxicated, making it safer for all who use our roadways,” Chief Read said.

Studies show mixed results in the correlation between Uber usage and diminished drunk driving.

According to The New York Times, one independent study found that “in four boroughs of New York City, excluding Staten Island, there has been a 25 to 35 percent reduction in alcohol-related car accidents since Uber came to town in 2011, as compared to other places where the ride-hailing company doesn’t operate.”

However, other studies warn against equating correlation with causation, meaning that Uber usage may not be the only or primary cause for this decline.

One aspect of the debate is the effect on senior citizens, who might use the app when they would otherwise not be able to travel. But Laurie Fanelli, director of the town’s Senior Center, said she didn’t find Uber to be a necessary addition to senior services, since the center already provides free driving opportunities.

Volunteer’s pick up seniors at their homes and drive them to and from appointments, errands and hospital treatments. The service is mostly need-based rather than for socializing, but the center regularly provides trips to museums and shopping centers.

New York State regulations, according to the DMV, require that ride-sharing apps in the state must show passengers the estimated fare and display a photo of the driver, along with a description of the vehicle and its license plate number. In addition, drivers must pass a criminal background check, which includes a review of their driving record.

Ride-sharing companies are required to enroll their drivers in a DMV system that tracks and reports traffic ticket convictions, license revocations and reinstatements and other events.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said last week that the county could have opted out of permitting such services, but chose not to exercise that right.

“Ride-sharing in Suffolk County is a game-changer that will provide the incentives needed to attract talent and young professionals to live and work in our region,” Mr. Bellone said in a statement. “This will generate millions in economic activity, create good-paying jobs and make sure we further protect the safety of our roadways.”

North Fork elected officials recently expressed support for ride-sharing, according to the Suffolk Times, saying it would provide a responsible transportation option for visitors and locals and cut down on drinking and driving, as well as offering another way for people to get where they need to go in an area where public transportation and traditional cab services are limited.