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May 6, 2014 1:55 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

New Taxi Laws May Increase Financial Burden On Taxi Companies

May 6, 2014 5:04 PM

Taxi driver Laurie Edwards sat in her van on Main Street in East Hampton Village on Monday, waiting for her next fare.

For 27 years, she has driven a cab and has seen the crazy scramble for customers during the summer season in East Hampton and the quiet doldrums of the winter.

In just a few short weeks, taxi drivers from points farther west will come to take their pick of car-less visitors and drunken partiers.

“The out-of-town drivers gouge their prices,” she said through her window. “I’ve seen them sleeping in their cars at the train station.”

Ms. Edwards, who drives for East Hampton-based Bill’s Taxi, is one of many taxi drivers who will be affected by new legislation that East Hampton Town is considering as a way to make enforcement easier and bring local taxi services into code compliance.

If agreed upon by the East Hampton Town Board, taxi drivers would need to be fingerprinted before being granted a license in the town, like in Southampton and Riverhead towns. Taxi drivers also would have to agree not to let too many passengers overcrowd their cabs, or face a fine, if the legislation is passed.

Additionally, taxi companies would need to apply for a business license every year, instead of every two years.

On April 3, the town approved a new fee schedule that is similar to what Southampton and Riverhead currently have: in East Hampton, the cost of a business license for taxi companies is now $750, up from just $200 charged every two years. The town is seeking to make companies reapply each year.

Every cab under a taxi license must have a permit, which comes at a cost of $200 each year. Previously, the town charged $150 every two years. Similarly, drivers must have permits, which have been increased to the same amount.

All vehicles for hire must also be registered in the same name as the business license.

Under the new law, each company must also maintain a written record of all trips, including time and place, so that the town would be able to access those at any given time to track a complaint, for example.

The town also is giving a helping hand to mom-and-pop taxi companies, those with only two cabs, to use their home office to fulfill the requirement. Such businesses with only two cabs would not have to go under site plan review for approval as they do now. Owners would be able to park their two cars at home, but would not be allowed to use their home as a taxi depot.

The change in the law would also allow a taxi office, not a depot, to be one of two allowed office uses; today, it’s its own separate use. Taxi companies are not currently allowed to share a building with other businesses.

These changes seem to be creating mixed feelings among cab drivers and taxi owners, including Ms. Edwards.

“It is a lot different than it used to be,” Ms. Edwards said. “You just needed a village permit 20 years ago.”

She said she hopes the new laws will help crack down on the number of permits given out each year. She said there were more permits rendered last year than there were local drivers.

The increased fees won’t be an easy thing to swallow, she said. “It’s probably going to hurt,” she said. “It’s more overhead.”

At the Town Board’s public hearing on the subject last Thursday, May 1, many cab drivers and taxi owners echoed the sentiments, expressing concern about struggling local taxi companies and the turnaround time for approving a driver’s permit.

Attorney Lawrence Kelly, who represents Moko Taxi in Montauk, said that every day a driver is not in a seat, it brings hardship to a local company. He said that waiting 10 days for an application review, including fingerprints, would take away time during which a company and a driver can make money.

“They don’t have two- or three-week lag periods where that vehicle is not operated,” he said, adding there should be a “pending” status available for those drivers waiting to be approved. “If for reasons there is a lag in the processing of the application, this status allows companies to fill the vehicle with someone who has submitted their paperwork and prints.”

Town Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc, who is the liaison to the town’s taxi committee, said on Friday, however, that idea would defeat the purpose and expose the town to potential liability.

Patricia Scott of Atlantic Transportation was not happy to hear that fingerprinting may be required. She said that companies already take on the onus of background checks.

“We’re already being treated like criminals before we get a job,” she said. “We only have 10 weeks. I think we can all put up with little hoopla for 10 weeks. You’re really sucking the life out of us.”

Many cab drivers and taxi owners seemed to be on board with the fingerprinting process, but some seemed to be more concerned with the new fee schedule.

Driver Louis Leon said the Town Board members have no idea what it’s like to be a taxi driver in the summer season and insisted that if they did, they wouldn’t make such a hardship on local companies.

“It’s frustrating to see people come out here in the summer. It’s like taking fish out of a barrel,” he said. “The only thing you’re doing is eliminating small companies. We can’t pay rents out here to afford an office year-round. We only have 10 weeks. It’s all the money we make for one year. Some issues you really should press to make fair for certain things, and some other issues you really should back up.”

One of those issues is overcrowding, according to some cab drivers. Some cab drivers said it is nearly impossible to know how many people get in the car when they pile in at the last minute after a cab is hired.

Bill Bock of the Pink Tuna company said his drivers get bum-rushed by people outside of bars. “Giving a ticket to someone who drives away with 20 people in their car, that’s fair, but you have no control at times,” he said. Code enforcement officers can fine drivers for overcrowding when the vehicle is stopped.

Eva Growney, a driver and former owner of Amagansett Taxi, said the point at which police officers decide there are too many customers in a cab is important.

“If [the customers] sneak someone in the back, the driver doesn’t even know half the time,” she said. “I think we have to have some sort of careful way of allowing the driver some discretionary moment. It would be ridiculous to pin a driver when customers get in the car, because you don’t know.”

Supervisor Larry Cantwell said code enforcement likely would use some common sense in enforcing the rules.

Mr. Cantwell said later that the board would hold another public hearing on the issue if its members decide to change the laws substantially, but Mr. Van Scoyoc said the town has already hashed out most of the points that were brought up.

“Nobody wants to have to pay anything more, whatever it is they do, but there will also be benefits … in terms of raising the bar on the quality of services rendered,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said.

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In that the town taxi committee under Peter Van Scoyac did an admirable job of outreach, it is disappointing to see it fail near the goal line. In imposing a government program with a ten to twenty day processing delay (that is their rose colored glasses estimate before the program starts) , there is no excuse for not providing a pending status to licensed drivers sponsored by a local private taxi company who have submitted all the paperwork to the government for processing under the new program. ...more
By Lawrence Kelly (4), Bayport on May 8, 14 7:24 AM
Any driver with a HazMat endorsement on their license has already paid for a background check which Is far more thorough and granted by a far higher authority than any of the Five Towns.

Such professional drivers who run hack for extra money should be exempt.
By Mr. Z (11376), North Sea on May 9, 14 12:02 AM
How are they going to monitor Uber--the phone app being used all over NYC?

Private cars are screened and registered with Uber--and pick up in response to smart phone requests--completely circumventing all local monitoring.

Like Air BNB for rentals, its a real challenge for local municipalities to stay ahead of current technology.
By aging hipster (184), Southampton on May 9, 14 6:41 AM
I always thought that taxi drivers were the scum of the earth, gouging you at your most vulnerable ie. having been drinking and no way to get home thinking that "I'll just call a taxi". Not all taxi drivers but experienced many. That's why a lot of young people with less money will just take a chance and drive. That's what initiated the hack license situation, citizens complaining to the SH Town Clerk. But it's a mix of everything, unethical taxi drivers, a high cost of living on the East End ...more
By lirider (270), Westhampton Beach on May 9, 14 7:56 AM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By IMO, EAST HAMPTON on May 13, 14 12:45 AM
8k run & 3 mile walk, Agawam Park, Southampton Rotary Club fundraiser