When it comes to Uber, Westchester is in a unique financial position.
New York state is hashing out details with the aim of legalizing Uber and other ride-hailing services outside of New York City in July, but Uber already has plenty of cars operating illegally in Westchester.
Because of this, the county stands to gain a service that’s already here — and lose as much as $800,000 of revenue from fines when the black market rides go mainstream.
This year, the county expected to collect $700,000 in fines for the Taxi and Limousine Commission, with Westchester’s budget director telling lawmakers last week that the county is now expecting to overshoot that mark by $100,000.
Although the exact nature of all the fines isn’t available, the majority come from Uber and other ride-hailing services that aren’t supposed to be taking fares here, says a spokesman for County Executive Rob Astorino.
So many fines have been collected that even if the revenue stream dries up July 1 as expected, the county would still hit its expected revenue mark for the year, county Budget Director Lawrence Soule said at a legislative committee meeting last week.
Counties and certain cities, Yonkers included, are allowed to opt out when the ride-hailing becomes legal statewide. The Department of Motor Vehicles is expected to outline a process to issue licenses for drivers, but the details of the vetting process aren’t yet known.
Until then, Uber rides are only legal if they begin or end in New York City. A ride-hailing trip from Westchester to the city or back is legal; trips within the county or to other locations are not.
Ready or not
A conference room in the Hyatt Place in Yonkers is the focal point of Uber’s thrust into the county.
Last Wednesday drivers congregated there around tables and spoke with Uber employees dressed in black sitting behind Apple laptops — as they will be every Wednesday as Uber gears up for statewide legalization.
The idea is to give prospective drivers an idea what it’s like driving for the ride-hailing service.
“We want to get people up and running so as soon as we’re allowed,” said Uber spokeswoman Alix Anfang. “We’re doing everything we can to make the service as reliable as possible as early as we can.”
How seriously Westchester or Yonkers would take opting-out remains to be seen. Anfang was quick to point out 70 percent of suburban voters support ride-hailing. But even Uber supporters said they would wait and see what the regulations look like, and more stringent background checks on drivers like fingerprinting might be included.
Still, there are concerns of both safety and revenue. On the economic side, Westchester awaits information on what its revenue cut will be once the state licenses the vehicles. This is in addition to the loss of violation-induced revenue and the potential to drive down still more cash from licensing traditional taxis.
On the safety side, background checks on drivers remain a concern for some critics.
To fingerprint or not
Mike Kaplowitz, chairman of the Board of Legislators, wants to push to ensure that licensed ride-hailing drivers are held to the same standard they are in New York City.
County officials say both Uber and Lyft have declined to do fingerprinting. Kaplowitz said that the county’s commission said it rejects as much as 35 percent of those applying for car service licenses after fingerprinting.
“I’m not sure if I had a teenage daughter…if without finger printing and drug testing, that I’d want her to get into the car,” Kaplowitz said.
Kaplowitz said he prefers the New York City suburbs including Long Island get the same level of background checks that the city does.
What the regulations end up being could hurt Uber’s ability to recruit drivers, too.
Marlon Hay, an Ardsley resident looking for a side job, attended the job fair to learn more about the rules around ride-hailing.
“If it’s more of a hassle than it is a help, I’m definitely not going to do it,” said Hay, who works retail. “Screening is fine, but if I have to pay fines or extra registration based on city or state regulations, I might not do it.”
Still, Hay seemed more interested than not.
“I like the idea,” he said. “It’s giving people opportunities. You have a car, a decent car, you have insurance, you have an opportunity to make decent cash.”