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Jul 5, 2016 3:11 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Uber Drivers Say They Seek Clarity, Fairness On The East End

Registered livery drivers in Southampton Town can be identified by a red sticker placed on the back windshield on their vehicles. KELLY ZEGERS
Jul 5, 2016 3:11 PM

Locally based Uber drivers are worried about losing business to competition from other drivers—many of whom flock to the east from New York City for summer weekends—who are not registered with the Town of Southampton and, subsequently, did not pay a $1,000 fee for the right to provide rides through the app.

The town’s newly required registration and fee are intended to add a level of fairness between app-based drivers and taxi companies, as taxis were already obliged to register and pay yearly fees. While that issue has been cleared up, new wrinkles have arisen since the town adopted the regulation.

A few drivers claim that the new code is not being enforced strongly enough against those who do not have town permits, and have said they feel as though they paid the fees for no reason.

“We were thinking we would be the only ones operating here,” said David Baz, an Uber partner who lives in Southampton year-round.

The Requirements

The town approved a measure, originally proposed by Councilman Stan Glinka, in April that classifies livery drivers as those who can pick up passengers when the ride is arranged prior to pick-up, as Uber and Lyft rides are done, via mobile apps.

Under the town code, an app-based driver must pay yearly fees that total $1,000, as they are considered livery operators by the town. They must work through a registered business, for which there is an owner’s license that costs $750. In addition, there is a $150 fee for each vehicle, and a $100 fee for each driver. The formula is based on the licenses and fees that taxi companies already have to pay each year to operate in the town.

Livery operators also must be fingerprinted and receive background checks, for which they pay any related fees.

Uber and Lyft drivers are now registered under businesses that they either had in place or have created for the purpose of obtaining a permit, according to Sundy Schermeyer, Southampton Town clerk.

To date there are about 40 livery operators with Southampton Town permits, which are red stickers placed on the rear windows of the vehicles. This includes not only Uber drivers but others classified as livery companies, vehicles and drivers.

‘An Education’

Mr. Baz, Gian Guresci and Alex Uluyol are Uber partners sharing an East Hampton business address. Mr. Baz said he and his fellow drivers were unaware that the Southampton Town code did not apply to incorporated villages, such as Southampton Village and Sag Harbor, and he said he felt that should have been made clear when the change was proposed in Southampton Town.

“It doesn’t make sense to have a public hearing if you’re not on the same page with your colleagues,” said Mr. Guresci, an Uber driver who lives on the East End for about five months of the year.

“The drivers received an education,” Mr. Glinka said. “They didn’t understand the jurisdiction of the town and villages.”

Mr. Glinka said he has met with the mayors of the villages of Southampton and Westhampton Beach to discuss the town’s livery regulation and whether it would be added to village regulations.

Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley said he had a good meeting with Mr. Glinka about the possibility of requiring Uber drivers to register to operate in that village. “Southampton Village is very open to doing this and trying to put everybody on the same page,” he said. To avoid creating an entirely separate system, drivers would still register with the town if the village required permits, he added.

Uber representatives have met with Mr. Glinka twice since the town’s new requirement was adopted, the councilman said. At the most recent meeting, he said, the representatives wanted town officials to accept the background check that Uber already requires through the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission. Mr. Glinka said the town has not agreed to that proposal.

Southampton is not the first East End town to regulate all for-hire vehicle services. East Hampton passed a law in spring 2014 that requires all such drivers to have a business address in the town—prompting Uber to stop the use of its app there last summer.

“Recent reports of increased drunk driving incidents in East Hampton make Uber more eager than ever to come to an agreement with Southampton,” said Alix Anfang, a spokeswoman for Uber. “We have been working closely with the town in an effort to reach an agreement, and we are hopeful that we will do so.”

Competition

Some Uber partners who have permits to operate in the town have found that other Uber partners who come out from the five boroughs—and who do not have permits—are not being deterred by the new requirements. “They take all the jobs you’re supposed to get,” said Mr. Guresci.

“We’re trying to get summertime Uber companies compliant with the new rules,” said Southampton Town Police Sgt. Todd Bennett, whose department, along with code enforcement officials, enforces the new regulations.

On a recent evening, five Uber drivers stood at the train station in Southampton Village, which is not within the town’s jurisdiction, outside their cars—all of which had New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission license plates, as well as the town’s red permits. The drivers said town code enforcement officials had alerted them to the new requirements.

In conversation, they said they did not feel as cheated by non-permit holders, as Mr. Baz and others did, but would like to see Uber cover the costs of the new requirements. They did not want to give their names, they said, because they were concerned about losing business or being penalized by Uber.

Uber recently dropped the base rate of a ride in Southampton to $11. The rate before that had been $16, the drivers said, which is comparable to what local taxis charge. Meanwhile, Lyft, which arrived in Southampton a few weeks ago, has a base charge in Southampton of $5.10 and a cost minimum of $16, according to a breakdown on its website.

According to Paige Thelen, communication manager for the company, Lyft’s drivers are in compliance with local requirements.

“Competition is everywhere—that’s normal,” Mr. Uluyol of Uber had said. “If it’s a legal way, I can compete.”

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