The number of taxicabs on the roads of East Hampton Town more than doubled this summer compared to the same time last year, according to the Town Clerk’s office.
The boom has drawn complaints from residents and police who say the cabs drive recklessly, and from local taxi companies who say they now have to compete with out-of-town cabbies who swoop in on profitable weekends.
“They’ve all heard there’s money to be made in Montauk,” said Mike Heather, the owner of Moko Taxi in Montauk. Mr. Heather has been driving cabs in town since the ’90s.
This summer, 315 taxicabs were registered with the Town Clerk’s office, up from 154 last year—the first year that the town began licensing them, according to Deputy Town Clerk Carole Brennan, who is responsible for registering the cars. The number of companies that own those cabs also more than doubled, from 46 companies to 74 companies.
“I look at it as a double-edged sword because for years we’ve been telling people to take cabs, ‘Don’t drink and drive,’ you know,” East Hampton Town Police Chief Ed Ecker Jr. said last week. “But they also have to obey the traffic laws.”
Last month, Town Board members said they had received complaints about both price gouging by cabs and drivers breaking traffic laws this summer. Issues ranged from drivers blowing stop signs and using cell phones, to charging customers extraordinary fares, like $50 for a ride to the center of Montauk from Ruschmeyer’s.
“It appears that we’ve gotten a lot of complaints from the residents, as well as some visitors, that there were just too many taxis, that those taxis seem to, at times, be doing business in an unregulated fashion,” said Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, who added that the issue has been most serious in Montauk and Amagansett.
Mr. Wilkinson and Chief Ecker said they’re interested in more thorough background checks on the drivers and looking at possibly limiting the number of cabs in town.
“My question to the town is, why so many?” said Mr. Heather. “Is there any way of lowering the amount?”
Part of the reason Mr. Heather believes the drivers violate traffic laws is because many of them are exhausted. He said drivers from out-of-town companies from Brooklyn typically drive out on a Friday and sleep in their cars until Sunday evening
Board members are thinking about ways to tweak the current process. Councilwoman Theresa Quigley, who spearheaded the original legislation to register taxis in town, said she’d like to see some changes to the system. Some of those could include requiring businesses to prove they have a place of operation within town.
Also, she said she’s interested in creating a Better Business Committee, or the Better Business Board—a local board that would review and approve applications to license contractors and taxis and provide a venue where local residents could air their complaints about the businesses. It would relieve some of the Town Clerk’s office’s work duties and “would better protect constituents and cab companies” to ensure the services they get are safe and fair, she said.
Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc said he thinks requiring a local office is “a good idea,” but it should be considered carefully.
“Those are several of the ways we’ve talking about possibly tightening things up,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said. “Of course, there has to be further discussion. So if you require a local office, the code allows for certain businesses to have offices within their homes, but then you have to start addressing the question of, do you have a taxi depot in a residential neighborhood? Is that going to be the result?”
Requiring taxi companies to have an office in town would be “great,” said Mr. Heather. But he wants to make sure it’s not just a post office box and suggested requiring drivers to show the town a utility bill. He also said raising the fees for out-of-town companies might be a good idea. Currently, companies must pay $200 to register their business with the town, and $150 for each vehicle they want to register—making it “too easy” for any business to sign up,” he said.
“The price right now is just too cheap,” Mr. Heather said.