A proposed moratorium on ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft was tabled Tuesday night, as more than a dozen drivers told Suffolk lawmakers that ending the service would hurt their incomes and riders who have come to depend on them.
At the county’s general meeting in Riverhead, Legis. Bridget Fleming (D-Noyack) said she hopes the state budget will give local governments a portion of the $24 million in revenue from the 4 percent state surcharge on ride-hailing, and add tougher background checks for drivers.
Fleming had introduced a bill for a six month moratorium as a way for the county to gain leverage to help fund public bus service. Suffolk County reduced funding for the bus service as part of ongoing budget cuts.
“The county had no chance to weigh in before it was really forced by the state to allow it” or opt out altogether, Fleming said of ride-hailing services. However, she said she wanted the drivers to be “reassured their income is not in jeopardy today.”
Uber drivers said the service introduced last year has provided them with vital income and serves residents more reliably than traditional taxis or Long Island’s public bus system.
“Passengers say they can’t rely on buses, they can’t rely on taxis,” said Uber driver Wayne Parsons, of Glen Cove. “Why on earth would you write a bill like this? All of us drivers would lose our jobs. People use the ride share not just to get to work, we take old people to hospitals. A lot of people are being helped here.”
But taxi drivers and members of the Long Island Limousine Association said ride-hailing services should have to abide by the same background checks and insurance rules as they do.
“It’s an unfair playing field,” said Steve Showtime, president of the limousine association and owner of Showtime Limo in Island Park.
Uber spokeswoman Danielle Filson said there are 7,000 Suffolk Uber drivers who serve 60,000 passengers regularly. She said the company, “thanks the Suffolk County Legislature for listening to the thousands of Long Island drivers and tens of thousands of Long Island drivers who depend on our app to earn income and get around.”
Also Tuesday, dozens of pet store owners and animal rescue groups clashed for over four hours over a bill to regulate where pet stores get animals.
The bill, sponsored by Legis. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood) and Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore), would ban pet stores from buying puppies from brokers who help stores find dogs from breeders across the United States. The measure also would require longer quarantine times and increase disclosure of where the dogs come from.
In exchange, the bill would allow stores to buy from “hobby breeders,” defined as facilities with fewer than four breeding females. Suffolk lawmakers had banned stores from buying from the small breeders in 2016, in an effort to prevent sick puppies from being sold at pet stores.
Pet store owners said brokers provide an additional layer of protection and regulation to ensure puppies are healthy and bred in good conditions.
Keith Lewin, co-owner of the Puppy Experience in Aquebogue, said the county was at risk of over-regulating the industry.
“For every puppy that’s going to be sick, there are hundreds if not thousands of happy families,” he said.
But animal resource groups said brokers allow pet store owners to be ignorant of the breeding conditions at locations they label puppy mills.
They also attacked the bill for allowing “hobby breeders.”
“You’re opening Pandora’s box by lifting that,” said JoAnn Winkhart, a Nesconset volunteer leader with The Humane Society of the United States. “They will begin sourcing from backyard breeders.”
Melissa McClellan, a board member of Posh Pets Rescue in Long Beach, said sourcing of puppies would improve, “if pet store owners went and saw the conditions of these animals.”
Martinez said some stores are selling sick dogs and not providing proper health records.
Bob Yarnall, president and CEO of the Florida-based American Canine Association, said the group opposed banning brokers, which he said often have a veterinarian check out puppies before they’re sold, but supported other parts of the bill.