Ontario gets Uber, WNY still waiting

Ontario Gets Uber While WNY Stills Waits

NIAGARA FALLS, U.S. – So close, yet so far. UBER can now legally operate in parts of Ontario.

That means Niagara Falls, Canada is just one of a handful of Niagara Region cities that now has Uber while Niagara Falls, New York still does not.

"How confusing that one side has it and one doesn't,” said John Percy, president of the Niagara Tourism Corporation.

He is among many Western New Yorkers who have a vested interest in getting rideshare services, like Uber, here.

"It's very, very important that we don't look behind the times and provide what customers are wanting. They’re wanting that product,” Percy said.

Western New York leaders are anxious for Albany to pass the legislation that would legalize ridesharing services outside of New York City.

Tourists have expressed disappointment that they can't request a ride, and the influx of visitors during the NHL draft highlighting that problem.

"It's very frustrating because, again, it's the convenience to a traveling customer,” said Percy.

Lawmakers couldn't agree to the terms of the legislation by the end of June, which means Buffalo and Niagara Falls must wait until January 1, when session resumes, for the renewed effort.

"Quite frankly, it's the downstate individuals that have been blocking this,” said Senator Tim Kennedy, who has been vocal on this issue. “We have to make sure that they are compelled to do the right thing by our community.”

It’s worth nothing that getting Uber in Ontario was not a quick and painless process.

The rideshare giant started operating there illegally about a year ago.

"We had to find a way to make it legal and safe, and our challenge was mostly insurance,” said Robert Gale.
Gale chairs the Niagara Regional police board.

His priorities were different than many of the reasons that have been touted here in New York.

"Tourist advantages did not come into it at all. And that's honest. It was safety,” Gale said.

Gale said as an example, last year, University students were taking rides from drivers who didn’t have proper licensing or insurance.

And so it's been a yearlong battle making sure both drivers and the company behaved. On July 5, Ontario approved a $5 million dollar umbrella insurance policy. But even up until a week ago, there were still problems.

"Over the weekend, we forced the issues, and the money's in the bank, the records are being sent to us, and the insurance is in place. So we're pretty happy with how this has gone."

Gale said this will be a trial period, and the regional government will evaluate how it’s going a year from now and fine-tune any policies or laws at that time.

Here in New York, Uber isn't giving up.

After two Bills players hailed a ride in Baltimore, the company took advantage of that opportunity to publicly offer the Bills free rides to and from New Era Field when needed…if and when it’s allowed to.

"That's something they can do in every NFL city in the country except in Buffalo,” said Joshua Gold, a senior policy manager for Uber.


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