East Hampton just began regulating the taxicabs that can work in town four years ago, and now the town is looking to tweak its taxi code with several changes that are getting mixed reviews from cabbies here.
The original taxi legislation was an attempt to reduce the number of cab companies from outside East Hampton who come east in the summer months and compete with local companies, by requiring that they receive a license to work in East Hampton.
The town is now proposing to require fingerprinting of cab drivers, to allow cab companies to have offices in homes and to change the town code so site plan review is not required for small cab companies that keep fewer than three vehicles at their homes, said assistant town attorney Michael Sendlenski at a May 1 public hearing on the changes.
Taxicabs could not be dispatched from houses, he said, but the home office provision would allow small local cab companies to prove they have an address within the town in order to do business. The changes would also shorten the length of time a taxi license is good for from two years to one year.
Many cab drivers and owners said they were concerned about the fingerprinting requirement.
“We’re driving drunks around. Why do we have to be fingerprinted?” asked Patricia Scott, owner of Atlantic Transportation in Montauk. “Bus drivers and landscapers don’t have to be fingerprinted. Why are we picking on this one service industry?”
Mr. Sendlenski, who has previously worked in the town attorney’s office in Southampton Town, which requires fingerprinting, said Southampton had once denied a license to a cab driver who had been convicted of sexual assault, who later went on to drive a cab in another town where he attacked a passenger in his cab.
“If someone has a serious criminal background, we feel should not be driving cab with customers in the middle of the night,” agreed Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell.
Mr. Sendlenski said people who are denied a license can appeal their case to the town’s licensing review board.
Other cab company owners said they didn’t want to wait 10 days for fingerprinting results to come back before they allowed new drivers to work, and said the $750 application fee would prove a strain on their businesses, which make most of their money in ten weeks in the summer.
Mr. Sendlenski said drivers can work on a provisional basis while waiting for the fingerprinting results.
Ms. Scott, of Atlantic Transportation, said she has heard that internet-based transportation services like uber.com and sidecar.com plan to operate in East Hampton this summer. She asked if they would be required to be fingerprinted and pay $750 for a license this summer.
“Everybody’s crowding in on our little space and now the town is crushing us with $750 for a license,” she said. “We’re going to find it hard to get drivers if they’re already treated like criminals before they get the job.”
Mike Sparks of Montauk agreed.
“Why don’t they fingerprint bartenders that over-serve people and send them to our cars comatose?” he asked.
“You should fingerprint anyone that has something to do with public service,” said cab driver Luis Leon. “Deli workers — they could just slip something in your food and … shhhh… you’re gone.”
“In winter, we’re slipping around on the snow to make $20, and half that goes to gas” he added. “I can’t go to Patchogue or Islip and get a permit. At $750, the only thing you’re doing is eliminating small companies.”
Eva Growney, the former owner of Amagansett Taxi, said she had no problem with the fingerprinting, but she didn’t understand some of the other changes.
“There are lots of businesses here that dispatch from their homes,” she said. “What is the big deal? It is part of the functioning of operating a business. Are you telling me carpenters can no longer dispatch from their homes? It just makes no sense.”
She urged the board to keep the public hearing open.
Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc said the intent of the law is to help small cab companies by allowing them have offices in their homes, and the limit on dispatching simply means cars can’t constantly be coming and going from a residential property when the company receives fares.
Mr. Cantwell, who briefly owned Amagansett Taxi with his brother 40 years ago, said he is sympathetic to the concerns of the business owners.
“I’ve driven a cab for several summers. I understand the antics that go on inside of a cab,” he said. “Cabs serve an important role in the community. People have learned more and more that drinking and driving is not the way to go. The truth of the matter is its a good thing that they’re taking a cab and not driving, that’s a very positive thing.”
Mr. Cantwell said the town board will discuss business owners’ concerns at another work session before adopting the changes, and may hold another public hearing if they decide to substantially change the new requirements.
“This is going to come to a conclusion some time this month,” he said.