January 23, 2013

Cabbies Say Taxi Law's Not Fair

They really didn't like it. They didn't like it a lot. Last Thursday night, a contingent of cabbies and taxi company representatives spoke out in opposition at a public hearing to solicit comment on proposed changes to East Hampton Town's taxi regulations.

Overall, the speakers felt the new law would place an unfair burden on local companies. In particular, Brian Damark spoke of the financial impact of a provision mandating increased insurance coverage. It was noted the annual cost per car would double if the proposal were adopted. The insurance increase was the provision most rebuked by speakers throughout the evening.

But it wasn't the only one. The proposal also requires enhanced information about drivers and company owners. Why not require other service providers to provide fingerprints? driver Dermot Hickey asked rhetorically. "Why single this industry out?"

It's hard to get drivers as it is, Damark noted. "Additional burdens only create more problems.'" He said he could wind up with a shortage of drivers because of the time it would take to register them.

Wayne Lenteni of Lindy's Taxi noted that when the season slows, he uses some of his East Hampton drivers in Southampton Town, which already has a licensing system in place. Could that translate to East Hampton? Not as the current law is written, was the answer offered by town attorney John Jilnicki.

Bill Bock from Pink Tuna Taxi spoke of "a lot of unfair things here" in the legislation. He noted a mileage provision that doesn't take into account mechanics who rebuild cars. Ted Kopoulos from East/West Taxi said a five-year-old car could hit 350,000 miles. "That's no problem as long as you maintain it," he said.

He also questioned a requirement for a local office. Could it be located in someone's home? Yes, Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc answered, so long as there are no more than three vehicles parked at the residence.

Speaking on behalf of two companies -- Moko and Surf Taxi -- attorney Lawrence Kelly noted an already existing "stratification of jurisdiction" with regard to cabs. With the state and the county overseeing aspects of taxi legislation, he wondered whether the town would face jurisdictional hurdles. Designed, he said as a "coping mechanism to control the sharp elbows of day tripper taxies," the law could have unintended consequences.

Kelly questioned whether the town has the power to restrict out of towners from coming in, which was the stated justification for the code revision repeatedly emphasized by Supervisor Bill Wilkinson during the public hearing. He said the law arose from a request from a local driver. "The purpose was to protect the locals from the ingress of foreign cabs," he said, confronting an at times impassioned audience. "Our hearts were pure."

Local officials do have the power to craft parking rules that could manage the flow of cabs, Kelly pointed out. Some drivers complained of the dearth of taxi stands and felt more of them would help. Wilkinson said he'd be happy to look into establishing more such sites. Others suggested limiting parking to "taxis only" in front of popular establishments.

Carl Irace, a former town attorney now in private practice, represents East End Transportation and Amagansett Taxi. He drafted the current taxi rules and characterized the new law as "a punishment that doesn't fit the crime."

The crime, he said, is too many taxis at certain locations at certain times. If the issue seems to be congestion, Irace said, the town has the power to limit the number of licenses it issues.

Like Kelly, Irace seemed doubtful of the town's ability to give preference to locals. If the board sets a number for licenses to be issued, he said, drivers who are in town in January or February could be first in line. Wilkinson warned, "If we say we're going to issue 30 licenses on January first; I can't protect the queue." He joked, "Since I've been supervisor I've been trying to exclude others as much as possible and the lawyers tell me I can't."

Councilman Dominic Stanzione wondered how the seasonal surge in need could be accommodated with a limited number of licenses. Irace suggested an increased number of permits issued for just the summer season.

Also on Thursday night, members of the town-appointed Licensing Review Board, which would be charged with oversight of the new regulations, came out in support of the legislation. However, board chairman Roy Dalene said his group would like to see a distinct chapter of the town code dedicated to the regulation. The LRB would also like a secretary, the authority to select new members, and compensation for increased responsibilities.

Town board members agreed to keep the hearing open for written comment.


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