East Hampton Town has been regulating taxi cabs within its boundaries for about five years, but after more than 20 Uber drivers were charged with misdemeanors in recent weeks for operating without license, Uber pulled the plug on the ride share service in East Hampton on Friday.
East Hampton’s taxi code has long required taxi companies to be licensed by the town, and requires drivers to pass background checks and be fingerprinted before they can operate in the town. Drivers who are caught driving without a taxi license face misdemeanor criminal charges beginning with their first offense.
The code has long had detractors within the existing East Hampton taxi industry, which is heavily regulated and pays handsomely for town permits.
East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said in a press release Friday afternoon that he and town code enforcement officers met with Uber Friday morning, after which “Uber informed the town that it would suspend operations in East Hampton immediately.”
“We applaud Uber for taking the responsible step of suspending their operations until such time that they comply with the Town’s licensing requirements,” said Supervisor Cantwell. “The town will not tolerate any vehicles not complying with our regulations, nor will we allow drivers to be sleeping in vehicles for hire, obstructing traffic and taking up limited parking spaces in hamlet centers that should be available for residents and visitors.”
Uber released a statement telling a different story.
“There is an unquestionable need and demand for Uber in the Hamptons, because taxi service has been historically unreliable,” according to Uber spokeswoman Alix Anfang. “Unfortunately the East Hampton town supervisor and town board have changed the rules, banning Uber from the town and denying their constituents access to our service.”
Mr. Cantwell said that there are 220 licensed taxis and vehicles for hire already operating in East Hampton, along with other public transportation options.
“Our local law recognizes that the transportation of persons by motor vehicles available for hire in the Town of East Hampton is a vital service which must be licensed and regulated in order to protect the health, safety and welfare of individuals using such services and the community as a whole,” said Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc, the Town Board’s liaison for taxi issues.
Also this week, the East Hampton Town Board introduced a new local law that would raise penalties for operating a car for hire without a license.
If approved, violators would pay not less than $500 and not more than $2500 for a first offense, not less than $1,000 and not more than $5,000 for a second offense and not less than $2,5000 nor more than $7,500 for a third offense.
The current fine schedule begins at $250 and goes up in $250 increments. A public hearing on the change is slated for June 18.