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Lawmakers debate letting island set its own Uber, Lyft rules

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — The Rhode Island Senate on Tuesday approved a bill that would let a picturesque summer resort island set its own rules for regulating ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft.

Taxi proprietors who live on Block Island, which is 12 miles (19.3 kilometers) and a ferry ride from the New England mainland, are supporting the proposal that could effectively prevent the San Francisco-based companies from taking root.

The legislation would exempt the town of New Shoreham, which encompasses the island, from a new state law that formally legalized ride-hailing app companies and put them under the oversight of the state’s public utilities commission.

The state Senate voted unanimously to pass the legislation Tuesday.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Susan Sosnowski, a South Kingstown Democrat whose district includes the island, said it would simply continue an 88-year-old tradition of letting Block Island set its own taxi rules. The town’s strict code allows only 32 taxis; only two taxis operate during the off-season. The wait to get a taxi license is about 15 years.

The measure now moves to the House of Representatives, where Block Island Republican Rep. Blake Filippi has introduced companion legislation.

Uber and Lyft have objected to carving out the island from the statewide regulations passed last year.

“This legislation seems to be searching for a problem that doesn’t exist,” said Lyft spokesman Scott Coriell. “Given the difficulty of getting a vehicle on and off the island, it’s highly unlikely that anyone would find it convenient or financially advantageous to come from off the island to drive temporarily.”

Coriell said the bill would prevent islanders from working for Lyft and “deny visitors access to the transportation options they expect and rely upon.”

An Uber representative previously objected to the bill.

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