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Ridesharing is what Rochester residents need

I know that my wife and I aren’t the only ones in Rochester who have been having a hard time trying to make ends meet for the past few years. Now, despite the lingering pains from the recession, our local economy is growing slowly but surely, and job opportunities seem to be on the rise. According to recent reports, some of that growth can be attributed to a number of tech startups and small businesses that have made Rochester their home. 

But while there are many new opportunities in the tech sector, Rochester residents still don’t have access to one tech-based solution to an age-old problem: how to get around. Apps on your phone that allow one Rochester resident to give another a safe ride at an affordable price—known as ridesharing—can make a huge difference in helping to make ends meet for people, like me, who aren’t able to take on a normal 9-to-5 job.

I’m a partially disabled Vietnam veteran, and because of my disability I’m not able to commit to a full-time job. I’m currently living on VA disability and Social Security payments. I’m always looking for a way to supplement my income, but because of my disability that can be quite a tall order.

I was a Lyft driver for only a short period of time (until the app was forced to stop operating here in Rochester), and it couldn’t have been more of a benefit to my wife and me. I signed up to become a driver almost immediately when I saw information about it online. Working for Lyft was like a dream come true. In addition to helping to boost my income, I had full control over the hours I chose to drive, which meant I could make my weekday appointments with the VA.

In my previous jobs I’d worked as a programmer and consultant for IBM and Citigroup, so I was very excited at the opportunity to work with a tech startup that is leading the way when it comes to ridesharing and transportation. My tech career had really come full circle from the days when I worked with computers that were the size of a whole room; now my smartphone was even more powerful than any of those room-sized systems and was transforming my way of life.

In addition to being a boost to my income, being a Lyft driver was a lot of fun. I genuinely enjoyed meeting other people, and I especially enjoyed the opportunity to talk to young people in the community. When you’re in the car with someone you get to hear local stories and learn about new places to go out and things to do. Rochester is my hometown, but I had not lived in the region for 30 years before moving back. It was great to talk to people about what had changed in the last several decades and compare our experiences as Rochester residents.

The riders I spoke to were very comfortable using Lyft. Ridesharing gave them a very safe and affordable way to get around. They also liked the opportunity to get to know their neighbors and Rochester community members better, just like I did.

We were all sad to see Lyft’s operations cut short after only a few weeks. It was particularly disappointing this winter, with the increased heating and housing costs. Here in Rochester, we’ve suffered from brutal cold with weeks on end of freezing temperatures along with everyone else in the Northeast. It’s disappointing to think of how the increased income from driving for Lyft might have helped my wife and me shoulder our financial burdens this season.

I hope that our elected representatives in Albany can find a way to allow innovative new ridesharing platforms to operate in New York (legislation has been introduced in both the Assembly and Senate). Lyft gives people who need flexible work hours a chance to make a little extra money and get to know our neighbors at the same time. It would be a real mistake for New York residents to have to miss out on this life-changing opportunity.

John Harrigan, a Vietnam veteran, resides in Rochester.

4/3/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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