In Push to Expand, Uber Highlights Its Role as a Designated Driver

As part of the ride-hailing service Uber’s push to expand to upstate New York, it has a specific message for college students: We want to help you get home safely after a night of drinking.

The company’s app is popular among millennials, but it is not available in upstate college towns. Uber officials hope the State Legislature will pass new rules allowing the service to move beyond New York City next year.

Despite its many fans, Uber has faced legal problems in the United States and abroad, and criticism over its aggressive tactics. As part of the company’sefforts to adopt a softer tone, officials have said the service can help reduce drunken driving.

Some students are eagerly awaiting the arrival of Uber and other ride-hailing apps like Lyft. At Syracuse University, Aysha Seedat, the student association president, has recently called attention to the need for the apps in the city. When students leave bars late at night, she said, many are left waiting because there are not enough available taxis.

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Over the summer while she was home in northern New Jersey, where Uber operates, Ms. Seedat and her friends used the app instead of trying to figure out who would drive home.

“We’re going to take an Uber, and we’re not going to take any chances,” Ms. Seedat, a 21-year-old senior who is studying public policy, said.

In the next few weeks, the university’s student assembly plans to vote on a resolution to support new ride-hailing legislation. Ms. Seedat has talked to students at other universities, including Rochester Institute of Technology and the State University of New York at Buffalo, about sending a joint letter to state legislators arguing that the services would improve safety.

This month, Uber began offering free rides home from bars in Evesham Township in southern New Jersey, a community where local officials said drunken driving had increased. From 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., residents can request a ride from Uber or another ride service, and the township will pay for them through Jan. 2.

“If you feel that you’re not capable of driving home, we’re going to make it really, really simple for you,” the township’s mayor, Randy Brown, said at a news conference this month.

In New York, Long Island is known for having among the highest number of alcohol-related crashes in the state. A crash this summer in Suffolk County, in which a man was charged with driving while intoxicated after hitting and killing four young women riding in a limousine, brought renewed attention to the problem.

About four out of five alcohol-related crashes in the state happened outside New York City in 2013, despite the city’s huge share of the population, according to state data. The counties that include Buffalo and Rochester, where a number of colleges are, also have among the highest number of crashes.

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The state chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving plans to lobby for a ride-hailing bill during the next legislative session, which begins in January. Richard Mallow, the group’s state executive director, said the apps reach young people where they spend much of their time — on their smartphones.

Last week, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, signaled that he wanted to create a statewide licensing system for ride-hailing companies. As Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, quarreled with Uber this summer over his proposal to cap the number of for-hire vehicles in New York City, Mr. Cuomo praised the company for creating jobs.

But taxi groups and others have questioned whether the company creates good-paying jobs. Uber says its drivers are independent contractors, but several recent local rulings have said that they should be considered employees. Opponents have also argued that new state rules could remove current consumer and driver protections in the industry.

Not all students support the effort. Stony Brook University on Long Island already has plenty of safe travel options for students who are drinking, including a reliable local taxi service called Lindy’s, said Cole Lee, the president of the university’s undergraduate student government. Mr. Lee, 20, who lives on campus and owns a car, has never used Uber.

“Although it sounds nice, I can’t say that I could see it being extremely successful here,” he said.

In Buffalo, a blog and apparel company called Rise Collaborative recently started an online petition calling for ride-hailing apps in upstate New York, and many college students have signed on. The founders of the blog and Ms. Seedat said they were not prompted by Uber officials to take up the cause — they simply see a need for it.

The mayor of Syracuse, Stephanie A. Miner, a Democrat, said she wanted Uber in her city and believed the competition could prompt local car services to improve.

“There is a big need for it here,” she said, “and I think you’re seeing particularly among young people an expectation to have Uber.”

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