Transportation Committee

Regular Meeting Notes (same as Minutes) – Draft 7-6-17

Monday, June 26, 2017 10:00 AM

Legislature Chambers

 

Attendance

Attendee Name

Title

Status

Michael Lane

Chair

Excused

David McKenna

Vice Chair

Present

Glenn Morey

Member

Present

James Dennis

Member

Present

Peter Stein

Member

Present

Dooley Kiefer

Legislator

Present

Anna Kelles

Legislator

Present

Will Burbank

Legislator

Present

Katrina McCloy

Deputy Clerk, Legislature

Present

Jonathan Wood

Tompkins County Attorney

Present

Marcia Lynch

Public Info. Officer, County Administration

Present

Thomas Knipe

Tourism Coordinator

Present

Michael Stamm

President, TCAD and Air Services Board

Present

Jennifer Tavares

Chamber of Commerce President

Present

Fernando de Aragon

ITCTC Director

Present

Michael Hall

Airport Manager

Present

Julie Holcomb

City Clerk, City of Ithaca

Present

 

Guests:  John Kadar, Owner, Ithaca Dispatch; Paul Kreigstein, Owner, Collegetown Cabs; Robert Hutko, City of Ithaca resident; Peggy Coleman, Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce and Ithaca Convention and Visitors Bureau; Stephanie Bailey, Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce; Dominick Recckio, Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce; Cara Rosenberg-Nichols, Ithaca College; Thomas Jungbaouer, Cornell University; Gary Lewis, Ithaca Dispatch; Sherman Inman, Ithaca Dispatch; Java-Abdur-Razzaaq, Ithaca Dispatch; Margaret Carleton, Ithaca Dispatch; Miranda Inman, Ithaca Dispatch; Wayne Cox, Ithaca Dispatch; Julie Swigart, Super 8 Ithaca; Teri Tarshus, Hilton Garden Inn; Sonny Karimi, The Hotel Ithaca; Cathy Hart, Ithaca Marriott Downtown; and Jennifer Tuttle, e3 Communications

 

              Media:  Alyvia Covert, Ithaca Voice; and Philip O’Driscoll, Spectrum Networks

Call to Order

              Mr. McKenna, Vice Chair, called the meeting to order at 10:03 a.m.

Changes to Agenda

              There were no changes to the agenda.

Comments from the Public

              Gary Lewis, Ithaca Dispatch, spoke in favor of the County “opting out” of the State regulations and would not like it to allow Transportation Network Companies (TNC) to operate in Tompkins County.  He has been involved in the taxi business for about four years and one of his job duties includes ensuring cab drivers meet the required regulations, including background checks, taxi licensures, and are up-to-date with City ordinances.  Drivers are put through a rigorous program to be certain they are safe to drive cars owned by Ithaca Dispatch.  He does not believe companies such as Uber and Lyft will provide such a rigorous program for its drivers.  He also ensures the vehicles operated by Ithaca Dispatch are in good mechanical condition.  He spoke of the fees required of taxi drivers prior to them being issued their license.  He is concerned for the safety of passengers and does not believe the ride-hailing companies will be as concerned as the local taxi companies are. 

 

              Sherman Inman, Ithaca Dispatch, is also supportive of the County “opting out” of the State regulations and not allowing TNC operate in Tompkins County.  He is in agreement with the statements made by the previous speaker and he is concerned about recovering the funds spent by local taxi drivers to become licensed such as doctor and fingerprinting fees.  He asked Legislators to consider the loss of those fees as they will not be collected from Uber and Lyft drivers.  Local taxi drivers are required to display their information in the vehicle they are driving and there are not similar requirements of TNC drivers.  He addressed the safety of the customers and spoke of some poor experiences customers in other parts of the country have had with Uber and Lyft drivers. 

 

              Java-Abdur-Razzaaq, Ithaca Dispatch, is also supportive of the County “opting out” of the State regulations and not allowing TNC operate in Tompkins County.  He addressed concerns about customer safety with the use of the TNC drivers.  He is supportive of the local cab companies providing services for the local people. 

 

              Cara Rosenberg-Nichols, Office of Admissions, Ithaca College, spoke in support of ride hailing services operating in the area.  She told of the negative taxi experience a prospective student had when he visited the area who did not receive timely and efficient taxi service upon his arrival to Ithaca.  He decided even before he made it to campus to not attend Ithaca College due to the poor transportation in the area.  She stated the College greets roughly 35,000 visitors a year and a large portion of them rely on public transportation and unfortunately this is a consistent story she hears.  She said there is a need for a reliable form of transportation for students as 60 % of the student population is from outside the New York State area.  She encouraged Legislators to consider allowing ride-hailing services to operate in this area and allow them the opportunity to offer a better choice for the community.

 

              Julie Swigart, Super 8 Ithaca, spoke in support of the operation of TNCs in the Tompkins County area.  She spoke of negative experiences she personally has had and customers have had with local taxi companies and the effects this has had on customers.  She stated customers are not just staying in hotels locally but are visiting the area as a whole and having an impact economically.  She stated Uber does require a background check for its drivers.  She would like to see a more reliable form of public transportation available for guests of local hotels.  She has personally used Uber services in other areas and has not had a poor experience.   

 

              Teri Tarshus, Hilton Garden Inn, spoke in support of the operation of TNCs in Tompkins County.  She spoke of poor experiences of a customer and prospective student of Ithaca College had in April 2017 with a local taxi company when they needed a ride to Elmira Airport and said this is only one of many stories she could tell.  She followed up the complaint from her guest with the taxi company and it took six phone calls to be able to speak with someone regarding this and was told “they did not care about hotel guests, hotel guests are one and done customers”.  She does care about the service provided to her guest because they bring in a large number of tax-paying dollars to the community.  She spoke of Ithaca being a global community and reaches beyond Tompkins County, beyond New York State, and outside the United States.  She stated she has personally used Uber in seven cities in the United States and in three other countries and has always had a positive experience. 

 

              Peggy Coleman, Vice-President of Tourism and Community Relations, Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce and Ithaca Convention and Visitors Bureau, urged Legislators to be supportive of ride-sharing in the community.  The County is already is already supportive of shared economies such as Air BnB, BRBO, and housing.  The City of Ithaca has an exclusive rider policy that puts the burden on the passenger to request the taxi driver not to share the cab ride with another fare.  There is a $3 surcharge for your taxi ride to ensure that no one else shares the ride.  Ms. Coleman spoke of a coalition of organizations, businesses, and citizens supportive of ride-sharing and stated Tompkins County will be at a disadvantage due to the fact that they are not listed as a supporter of these services.  She also spoke of correcting the record regarding background checks as Uber and Lyft both use a third party screening process for all drivers.   

 

              Thomas Jungbaouer, Assistant Professor, SC Johnson School of Business, Cornell University, spoke in support of the operation of TNCs in Tompkins County.  He stated it is his opinion the positive effects of ride-hailing services clearly outweigh the negative ones.  He said in many cities it has proved to reduce drunk driving and has fostered businesses such as restaurants and hotels.  He spoke of the majority of the drivers for these companies being local drivers and the money earned will likely stay local.  He stated the crime rate for ride-sharing drivers has not been any higher than that of taxi drivers.  By having a reliable public transportation available in the area it will not only be attractive to potential students but to potential staff as well.  He said support of Uber and Lyft may force the local taxi companies to become more efficient.  He has used Uber in over 80 towns and in 25 countries and has never had problems. 

 

              Robert Hutko, City of Ithaca resident, spoke in favor of the operation of TNCs in the City of Ithaca and Tompkins County.  He cannot drive due to his visual impairment and is excited for ride-hailing services to soon be available in this area.  He spoke of his compassion for those from the local taxi companies that must deal with numerous restrictions but the benefits for the community as a whole will be so much better.  He would like the Legislature to allow Uber and Lyft to operate here and asked Legislators to do what they can to encourage the ride-hailing companies to come to the area. 

 

              Margaret Carleton, Ithaca Dispatch, is also supportive of the County “opting out” of the State regulations and not allowing TNCs to operate in Tompkins County.  She spoke of other places where Uber thrives and those areas are much larger than Tompkins County.  She does not think the ride-sharing services will be able to thrive and last in this area and she would like the County to review the local businesses and see what can be done to make improvements.  She believes if this is done everyone could have a safe and reliable means of transportation. 

Minutes Approval

May 22, 2017

RESULT:              ACCEPTED [UNANIMOUS]

MOVER:              Glenn Morey, Member

SECONDER:              James Dennis, Member

AYES:              McKenna, Morey, Dennis, Stein

EXCUSED:              Lane

Chair's Report

              Mr. McKenna had no report.

Comments from Committee Members

              Mr. Stein thanked speakers for their enlightening and important input. 

 

              Mr. Dennis stated he, too, was appreciative of what he heard from those who spoke regarding this subject and is interested in hearing what others have to say.  He said at this time there is no resolution being proposed and this allows the Legislature an opportunity to gather information prior to taking any actions.

 

Transportation Network Company (TNC) Operations (Ride-Hailing) in Upstate New York

Report from City of Ithaca

Ms. Holcomb explained her involvement with taxi companies.  She fields complaints from the public and acts as a liaison between the local companies and the Ithaca Common Council.  The Ithaca Police Department is in charge of licensing and enforcement regulations and are not always available to assist with legislation changes.  Over the years, she has worked closely with John Kadar, Ithaca Dispatch, and Paul Kreigstein, Collegetown Cabs, to find a balance in the taxi cab operations.  The City of Ithaca greatly values local cab companies and is supportive of brick and mortar businesses to the greatest extent possible.  At the same time, the City is also supportive of transportation alternatives.  She stated Mayor Myrick is very supportive of ride-sharing.

 

              Ms. Holcomb spoke of the City of Ithaca legislation and the clause in legislation that puts the burden on a customer if they want an exclusive ride.  She said that was the City of Ithaca’s way to support mass transportation and promote a healthier and greener environment; sharing a taxi ride is one way to do that. 

Local Taxi Companies

              John Kadar, principal owner and operator of Ithaca Dispatch for 22 years, provided the following statistics about his company that operates in both the Ithaca and Elmira areas:

 

·              Employs 180 individuals; 2/3 are full-time and 1/3 part-time and are equally distributed between Ithaca and Elmira

·              Annual payroll of $3 million

·              Operates 70 taxi cabs

·              Gross Annual Revenue of just under $7 million

·              Provides 500,000 trips annually; equally distributed between Ithaca and Elmira

 

              Mr. Kadar stated he was requesting the Legislature to temporarily “opt-out” of ride-hailing operations in the area and allow for an opportunity to review those operations and to strategically react to the predatory pricing Uber and Lyft will apply when they enter new communities.  These practices generally undercut the local cab companies a great deal.  He believes taxi fare prices in Ithaca are not high as compared to other cities in the region. 

 

              Mr. Kadar believes the ride-hailing companies will have a role in the community eventually.  Their effectiveness and efficiency differ greatly from a small city to a larger city.  He spoke of the comments made by the hospitality industry representatives and their expectations of ride-hailing companies providing them with perfect response times and reliability and stated those expectations are not met in smaller cities like Ithaca. 

 

              Mr. Kadar spoke of the comments made regarding response and said the typical response time should be 15 to 20 minutes.  He stated response times are longer during peak operations such as early in the morning and on Friday and Saturday nights.  He does not believe ride-hailing companies will be able to provide any better service unless they have a large number of drivers in the area since only about 30% of the drivers are actually working at any given time.  There is not a large amount of money to be made by TNCs since the majority of the rides in this community are for shorter trips.  He spoke of ride-hailing operations in the State College area, an area similar in size to Ithaca, and stated Uber runs a skeleton crew there and the only time they are out in force is during larger events. 

 

              Mr. Kadar would like the County to temporarily opt out of TNC operations for a period of one-year and have an ordinance written to include provisions that allow local cab companies to supplement their fleet and operate auxiliary TNC-type vehicles affiliated with taxi drivers.  The drivers can only drive the vehicles on a part-time basis with limited hours, which could allow the local companies to upgrade their fleet and compete with ride-sharing companies.  He believes the Legislature should not be concerned about companies like Uber and Lyft but rather the local companies and help them improve their service.  

 

              Paul Kreigstein, owner of Collegetown Cabs, said he started his business as an attempt to improve transportation in this community with the best interest of the public and it is a very tough industry.  He spoke of the difficulties involved with the operation of a 24-hour service business including driver recruitment and retention.  He said originally he welcomed TNC operations if they would be beneficial to the Ithaca area but after seeing the legislation passed by New York State he has changed his mind.  He stated a company similar to his is required by the State to provide a $100,000 application fee and $60,000 annual upkeep fee to use the same pool of drivers as the TNCs.  Taxi companies are only permitted to hire drivers 23 and older while TNCs are allowed to hire younger drivers 19 and older.  There are also differing insurance requirements and differing fee structures where taxis must follow the City fee structure; Uber and Lyft charges are based strictly on mileage.  All these items provide the TNCs with an unfair competitive advantage.

 

              Mr. Kreigstein stated this is a true assault on the local businesses because Uber and Lyft have a history of bankrupting existing local companies when they enter the market and then later respond with grossly increased pricing.  He asked the Legislature to consider supporting an amendment to the State law to at least include the expansion of the pool of drivers for local taxi companies. 

Ride-Hailing Services

              There were no representatives from the Transportation Network Companies/Ride-Hailing Services present to speak.

Airport

              Mr. Hall stated there is a chronic ground transportation challenge at the Airport and there are too many people too often who are suffering from ground transportation problems.  He is in favor of doing everything and anything as a community to increase ground transportation capacity at the Airport.

Committee Members' Discussion

              Mr. Dennis commented that after listening to the two representatives from the local cab companies they seem to be making a case for the ride-hailing services to begin operations in this area to assist with some of the higher volume times.  He also referred to a document Mr. Kadar had sent to Committee members in advance of the meeting stating people who do not have access to a smartphone or credit card will not have access to the ride-hailing services.  Mr. Dennis said those individuals will have no other option but to continue to use taxi services as they do currently. 

 

              Mr. Dennis stated New York State has provided the County with the option “to do nothing” that will allow operators of the TNCs to begin to provide their services in the area.  He recommends the services be reviewed in six to nine months to see the impact they are having locally.  At that time, if the County deems it appropriate, it can opt out.  He does not believe there will be a substantial impact on the local companies in that period of time.  He trusts that if the Uber and Lyft drivers do not make money by providing this service in the County, then they will no longer provide the service and go elsewhere. 

 

              Mr. Stein spoke of an anti-trust law established in the United Stated due to John D. Rockefeller having control of most of the Country’s oil and related that to what has been discussed here today.  He stated his personal experience with the use of Uber services has been wonderful.

 

              Mr. Stein commented on the complaints made about the local taxi services and thinks solutions can be developed.  He referred to the complaint about the lack of ground transportation at the Airport and suggested the Airport establish a relationship with one of the cab companies to provide services at specific times.  He thinks the concerns voiced are large enough that we, as a community, could review them and develop solutions. 

 

              Mr. Dennis pointed out that through Mr. Hall’s and the Air Services Board’s efforts the Airport has gained additional jet service and they have worked very hard to keep the enterprise operations at the Airport going.  He stated there is a population of people who come into this community from larger cities expecting to use ride-hailing services. 

 

              Ms. Holcomb stated the City of Ithaca and Town of Ithaca are the only municipalities in Tompkins County that have taxi cab regulation legislation and the Town of Ithaca’s legislation only sets a rate structure.  She spoke of having approached Tompkins County Council of Governments (TCCOG) in the past regarding the community being better served by requesting special enabling legislation by the State to allow the County to regulate taxi cabs and at that time the County was not interested.  She began working with Ithaca Dispatch and Collegetown Cabs to address some issues community members were having; the majority of the issues were related to confusion about the rate structure.  She and the cab companies, worked to condense the rate structure for better ease of understanding by the public.  Ms. Holcomb asked for a sense from the County if the County would be interested in reviewing the idea of taking a County wide look at this or if the plan is to continue with the municipality by municipality approach.  She said Mr. Kadar has requested the City of Ithaca review their legislation as it relates to the operations of Uber and Lyft.  The City of Ithaca Administration has stated that it would wait to see what is adopted by the State prior to making any changes.  She spoke of the difficulties related to obtaining information from the State regarding the new regulations.

 

              Ms. Holcomb stated she is agreement with Mr. Dennis and the need to take time to understand the regulations and potential impacts of these services operating in the community prior to taking any action.  She would like to find a way to accommodate all modes of transportation interested in working in the County and believes there may be a way to work with the local companies to level the playing ground but there are still a number of moving pieces to the legislation. 

 

              Mr. McKenna stated there are no decisions or actions being made at this meeting and would like input from Legislator Lane.  He would also like to see a level playing ground for the local companies and spoke of the Country being based on a free enterprise system and the ride-hailing services being a great addition to the area.  He is supportive of allowing the operation of these services for a trial basis and then review the impact and work on any necessary legislation. 

 

              Mr. Dennis spoke of the County taking over the cab service regulations and is supportive of taking a look at it as it relates to shared services initiatives and consolidation.

 

              Mr. Stein stated he would like to it see how it works out and to find a way to not allow the ride-hailing companies to come in with predatory pricing.  Mr. Dennis stated it is his understanding that the County cannot change and add new regulations to the ride-hailing services if they operate in Tompkins County.  He believes the pricing will be based on supply and demand; if their prices are too high people will not use their services. 

 

              Ms. Kiefer inquired about the number of taxi cabs operating within the County.   Mr. Kriegstein stated there are ASAP Cabs and A-Plus Cabs that have smaller operations.  Ms. Holcomb believes both those companies operate more out of the City and Town of Ithaca, which is not regulated. 

 

              Ms. Kiefer is interested in more information regarding zoning pricing and discussion related to the County becoming involved in the regulations.  She is not in agreement with allowing Uber and Lyft to begin operations in the area and waiting to see what happens.  Instead, she thinks it is more important for the County to pay attention to what is already here and review the current regulations to see if they are in the best interests of all involved. 

 

              Mr. McKenna stated Uber and Lyft may be able to fill the gap for those rush hour periods and problematic times of the day and he does understand it may take away from some of the business for the local companies. 

 

              Mr. Kadar stated 33% of his business is transacted on a cash basis.

 

              Ms. Kelles would like to have a conversation regarding the diversity of transportation and if one type of service is brought in that will injure another type then the entire intent is lost.  If the ride-hailing companies are allowed to operate in the County she would like to have a review of the fee structure required of the cab companies to maintain some competition.  She commented that she has read information supporting the idea that if the diversity is lost then Uber tends to raise its prices once the competition is gone.

 

              Ms. Holcomb stated currently the County does not have authority to set taxi rates and invited the County to work with the City of Ithaca to do that.  Ms. Kelles expressed interest in that. 

 

              Mr. Burbank stated he cares a great deal about this issue and encourages the Committee and Legislature to slow down and review the advantages and disadvantages and figure out what is best for the County.  He stated he has used ride-hailing services in other communities and generally has had very positive experiences.  He has also used taxi services and had positive experiences but has found the rate structure to be somewhat strange at times. 

 

              Ms. Holcomb said New York State passed emergency regulations to allow the TNCs to begin operations in upstate communities on June 29th.  She inquired if there were any plans by the Tompkins County Legislature to take any action prior to that date.  Mr. McKenna stated he was not aware of any plans for the Legislature to take any action prior to June 29th

 

              Ms. Dawson stated she has heard a great deal of information regarding this issue and believes the best way to handle this would be to allow them to come in for a period of time and see what happens.  She suggested establishing a time-period for re-evaluation of the impacts and to take it from there.

 

              Mr. Kadar suggested Legislators do their due diligence and contact other officials from communities that have allowed these services to operate in their areas and see the impacts they have had there. 

 

              Mr. Burbank stated TNCs can begin operations on June 29th but it will take some time for them to establish themselves here.  He would like to send a message out that the County is considering legislation regarding this issue.  He would also like to hear from Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit and consider the impact this may have on them, especially on their more popular routes.  He suggests putting a hold on any legislation at this point and allow for a more comprehensive look at the impacts of these services. 

Adjournment

              The meeting adjourned at 11:30 a.m.