Brian Cook's March Madness-inspired trip to Buffalo to cheer on Princeton was, for him, a journey back to a simpler time, when hailing a ride meant standing on a corner and flagging down a taxi. "For a 19-year-old, that's unknown," said Cook. "I take Uber everywhere, always." Upstate New York, essentially everything outside of the metro New York City area, is Uber's final frontier: the largest area in the continental US where app-based ride-hailing companies are banned. Many in Buffalo, Rochester, Albany, and Syracuse are hoping to end that, but they will have to persuade the state's legislature. Previous efforts have repeatedly foundered, under pressure from the taxi industry and lawmakers who want stringent rules. "I can go to New York City, Philadelphia, DC, and I can utilize the app, but I can't utilize it in my own city," said Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, one of nine mayors to write state leaders.
Only Alaska and New York lack statewide ride-hailing regulations—though service is unavailable in many rural areas, reports the AP. New York's decision could come within weeks. Supporters and upstate mayors back bills from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Republican-led Senate but have concerns about legislation in the Democrat-run Assembly. That bill would authorize communities to pass their own regulations, and impose higher taxes and insurance costs. Uber is betting March Madness might help tip the debate. Buffalo is hosting games and visitors who open their Uber app—perhaps unaware it is banned—get a message urging them to tweet their frustrations at lawmakers. "This is a really exciting time in Buffalo," said state Sen. Chris Jacobs, who argues the service will decrease drunken driving and give the elderly and disabled options. "There's a reason why this is so successful elsewhere. It's really an embarrassment frankly that we haven't resolved this."