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Mar 30, 2017 1:24 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

State Poised To Strip Local Authority Over Uber; East Hampton Official Warns Of 'Chaos In Montauk'

Lawmakers have reached an agreement to adopt legislation that would legalize so called
Apr 5, 2017 11:27 AM

State lawmakers, as part of the still-in-limbo state budget, reportedly have reached an agreement to adopt legislation that would open the door to cellphone app-based “ride-sharing” companies like Uber and Lyft to operate throughout the state, preempting local governments from imposing any regulations—as East Hampton and Southampton towns have already done—beyond those adopted by a state licensing authority.

State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. said on Thursday, March 30, that lawmakers have been told that the leadership of the two houses of the legislature has reached an agreement to abandon the Assembly’s earlier stance that local governments should be allowed to continue holding some authority over the regulation of ride sharing.

The lone exception to state autonomy in the agreed-to bills, Mr. Thiele said, would be that individual county legislatures could choose to adopt a law barring ride-sharing companies from operating in that county. But if the county failed to block the practice entirely, it could be regulated only by the state and not by towns or villages, Mr. Thiele said.

“By this summer, local governments could be devoid of any regulatory authority over Uber,” Mr. Thiele said on Thursday”… Either it’s permitted or it’s not permitted—and, if it’s permitted, it’s regulated by the state alone.”

In East Hampton Town, where Uber got into a very public tiff with local lawmakers in the summer of 2015 over town licensing laws, Supervisor Larry Cantwell lamented the looming ride-sharing law in Albany, which would denude the town of its authority.

“It’s going to create chaos in Montauk and other places on Saturday nights in July,” Mr. Cantwell said Thursday. “I want the governor’s cellphone number, so every time someone complains about it, they can call him directly.”

But Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, who owns a hotel in Montauk, said that he thinks Uber and other ride-sharing services are sorely needed throughout the South Fork, and that allowing each individual municipality to regulate the company would be untenable.

“I think Uber has its place in the local community: It will help reduce drinking and driving, it supports the tourist industry, it provides predictable fares,” he said. “And I don’t think it should be [regulated] at the local level, because you’ll end up with a patchwork of laws that will be impossible to follow. Of course, we’ll have to look at whether we’re treating our taxicabs fairly—because if they have to pay $1,000 for a license and Uber doesn’t, that wouldn’t be fair.”

The sorts of problems Uber drivers caused in the past in Montauk could be addressed through other types of local laws, Mr. Schneiderman suggested, adding that many of them would be addressed simply through the company being able to hire local drivers—which could also be a financial boost for some local residents.

“We don’t have the New York City model here, where cabs drive around looking for someone to pick up. We already have the Uber model—it’s just a phone app instead of a phone call,” the Southampton supervisor added.

The Uber experience in Montauk in 2014 and 2015 was very different from the one the company describes as its business model.

In the summer of 2014, complaints poured in to town officials about Uber drivers—mostly from points too far to the west to return home between overnight shifts—sleeping in their cars at Montauk’s public beaches and on side streets during the day. Taxi drivers complained that the Uber drivers ignored accepted local convention for the orderly soliciting of rides from busy places like the Montauk Train Station and nightclubs.

The following spring, the East Hampton Town Board amended its taxi licensing law to require that all taxis be registered to a local business address. The new regulation effectively barred Uber’s drivers, who currently operate in the state only under licenses issued by the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission and, therefore, drive cars registered to Metro-area addresses.

At the start of that summer, more than 20 Uber drivers were hit with tickets from town code enforcement officers—many netted in sting operations that caught them hacking rides rather than relying on the Uber app for finding customers— and received $400 fines for violating the town’s taxi codes. The company reportedly paid the fines and attorney’s fees for the drivers, but it then shut down its app in the town and launched a public campaign vilifying Mr. Cantwell.

“Based on what I’m told of the law … this undermines everything we’ve tried to do with respect to getting cabs under control over the last three years,” Mr. Cantwell said of the new proposal in Albany. “If I were a local cab driver, I’d be asking why they would have to comply with local regulations but Uber doesn’t. It’s not a level playing field for them.”

Southampton Town adopted a requirement in early 2016 that required taxi drivers to register with the town at a cost of $1,000 per driver. But just a few months later, the town reached an agreement with Uber that allowed the company itself to buy a single license that covered a collection of its drivers.

After Governor Andrew Cuomo had hinted that he would be pushing the state toward consideration of ride-sharing regulation, East Hampton Town had penned a letter to him asking that whatever approach was taken allow local municipalities to exert some authority over the coming flood of new taxi drivers by imposing the same restrictions on the freelance drivers as apply to taxis, like parking on streets, sleeping in cars, and “hacking” for rides rather than strictly using the app-based ride hailing the company operates. Under the state proposals, such mandates would have to be adopted by whatever agency becomes the oversight authority for ride-sharing companies.

Uber has been lobbying state lawmakers, and Gov. Cuomo in particular, to adopt new rules that would allow the company to operate statewide—pushing the services as job creators and as an option that would reduce drinking and driving.

The main impediment to ride-sharing companies operating in New York State has been insurance regulations that do not allow for the sort of blanket insurance packages that the company relies on to cover up to $1 million in liability for its drivers and their riders.

The State Legislature and Gov. Cuomo have been hashing out competing bills as part of the state’s budget negotiations this winter that would have made the necessary amendments to insurance laws and set up licensing authority over the new style of rides for hire. But the three branches of government had differed on whether local governments would be allowed to impose their own requirements on such companies.

The legislation proposed by the State Assembly had allowed local governments avenues to regulating ride-sharing companies, as they do with taxicabs. Gov. Cuomo and the State Senate, meanwhile, had each pitched bills that would have given only the state the right to impose any licensing or regulations on ride-sharing apps.

On Thursday, Mr. Thiele said that he and other legislators were told by the leaders of the Democratic majority that an agreement had been reached with the governor and senators for a bill that would allow state oversight of only ride sharing.

Mr. Thiele said he is opposed to the legislation as proposed. He also blasted the agreed-upon law, which imposes a 4-percent tax on all of the app-based rides. Early versions of the bills had allowed a portion of those taxes, about 25 percent of the tax revenue, to be directed to local transportation projects. But Mr. Thiele said the compromise bill reportedly puts all of the tax revenues directly into the state’s general fund.

State law requires that the budget be approved by the start of the state’s fiscal year on April 1. The deadline was not met, and the legislature approved an extension.

Mr. Thiele said that the budget wrangling is ongoing but that the writing is on the wall of the Albany statehouse as to the future of Uber in the New York.

“I’ll preface this by saying that nothing is final until everything is final,” Mr. Thiele said, adding, “It’s looking like it is something that is going to happen. The governor and the Senate wanted state preemption. We wanted local control. Apparently, we lost.”

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How does another solution to drunk driving result in chaos again?
By SlimeAlive (1181), Southampton on Mar 30, 17 1:39 PM
We already have taxi cabs.
How does Uber prevent drunk driving, Uber is a taxi company.
If existing cabs dont stop drunk driving then there is no clear way to say that introducing an additional cab company will stop drunk driving.
By adlkjd923ilifmac.aladfksdurwp (747), southampton on Mar 30, 17 1:55 PM
Fair points. :)

I'm not against Uber, I just haven't seen much evidence to show that their presence reduces drunk driving rates - the existing studies of this claim are all over the map...the same data set has people exclaiming:
'Uber actually reduces drunk driving rates'
'What the data shows is that Uber does not have an effect on drunk driving rates'

This info is pretty available to see for yourself. Reducing drunk driving rates should be a goal for all of us, ...more
By adlkjd923ilifmac.aladfksdurwp (747), southampton on Mar 30, 17 2:17 PM
I resent that assumption! I like cash. And I don't get paid off the books! And I am legal. And
I am able to prove it back to 1640 in Southampton!
By summertimegal (97), southampton on Mar 30, 17 4:46 PM
Because Uber charges a standardized and much more reasonable rate, so more people will use it more often and thus less of them will drive drunk. Certain taxi companies out here on the (cough) East End will randomly increase the rate they charge depending on where they pick you up, how many people they pick up, and the color of your outfit. They will often charge around $25/mile per person. Plus they won't tell you the astronomical rate until you are a mile down the road and then threaten to throw ...more
By localEH (427), East Hampton on Mar 30, 17 6:40 PM
Another thing to consider is all of the non-locals out here in the summer. They don't know the local cab numbers but they all have Uber, and it's so easy and convenient to use.

How many times have you called a cab company out here and waited an hour, then got ripped off? People get so frustrated they often don't bother. Uber won't do that to you.

Also, the local cab companies aren't much safer. In high school I had a local cabbie go 80 mph on David White's Lane in Southampton. ...more
By SH_Res (342), Southampton on Mar 31, 17 8:00 AM
Yep, localEH nailed it on the head. I can personally attest to a time where a local taxi company tried to charge me and 3 other passengers $30 each!!! to go from North Sea to Water Mill. That's $120 to go 4 miles!!!! We estimated that an Uber ride to go the same distance would run about $26 total-- which is still expensive imo, but much more reasonable and well worth it for a night out. Btw, we gave that local taxi driver $30 between the 4 of us and told him to go "you-know-what" himself.
By johnj (1024), Westhampton on Mar 31, 17 9:04 AM
From Seattle to Maryland - Look on GOOGLE for this information about UBER

Uber’s process for onboarding drivers is dangerously negligent. Neither Uber nor Lyft uses fingerprints or law enforcement to background-check their drivers. And Uber doesn’t even bother to meet with drivers in person before allowing them to ferry passengers. The result is a series of incidents involving “ridesharing” passengers being harmed and criminal offenders behind the wheel:

Deaths ...more
By Vikki K (490), Southampton on Mar 30, 17 2:42 PM
1 member liked this comment
I've seen you post some pretty ridiculous ideas, but this takes the cake...

A few summers ago, my college aged daughter and a few local friends went to "The Drift Inn" which was located at Neptunes. They had me drop them off and said they would cab it home. I received a call at 0230 asking for me to pick them up.

The cab driver wanted $100 from each of them to take them from Hampton Bays to Southampton. Four hundred dollars. For a 25 minute ride. They said the car smelled of cigarettes ...more
By Draggerman (955), Southampton on Mar 30, 17 8:33 PM
Absolutely true! I had a cab from Sag Harbor to Hampton Bays ...$80.00.
By squeaky (291), hampton bays on Mar 31, 17 8:03 AM
I don't think Vikki gets out on the town much. If you don't think that the current local cab drivers are tax-dodging criminals, some of them are even drug dealers - I've got a bridge to sell you.
By Pacman (273), Southampton on Mar 31, 17 9:40 AM
Bought and paid for by generous campaign contributions and a 4% cut of their pie.
By Duckbornandraised (184), Eastport on Mar 30, 17 3:29 PM
1 member liked this comment
Ubers plan is to transition to driverless taxis as quickly as possible. How and in what manner will this state law address this? Could Suffolk County agree to TNC's so long as they are not driverless?
By Duckbornandraised (184), Eastport on Mar 30, 17 3:40 PM
Has anyone used a "local cab company" recently? I did with some friends last summer a couple times. The drivers looked like they were strung out and driving for their next fix. Filthy cars too. Cantwell is speaking out to protect friends, relatives or both that own "local cab companies". He should try a few of them himself & maybe he'll shut up for once.
By G (342), Southampton on Mar 30, 17 4:47 PM
The current taxi situation is a joke on the summer weekends.

Currently, kids going out are get ripped off or worst skipping taxis altogether because of the absurd prices. Usually when they avoid the taxis, they are hitching rides or walking home at 3 or 4 in the morning

UBER's return should help the taxi market be better, cheaper and safer.
Their technology alone is reason to hope the state succeeds.
By Amagansett Voter (62), Amagansett on Mar 30, 17 6:13 PM
1 member liked this comment
Is this law going to run into equal protection problems under the Fourteenth Amendment? How can there be two sets of rules for two taxi services operating side-by-side?
By Duckbornandraised (184), Eastport on Mar 30, 17 6:18 PM
1 member liked this comment
Capitalism at its best...

Viva la Uber
By joe hampton (3461), The Hamptons on Mar 30, 17 7:43 PM
1 member liked this comment
Free market competition benefits all. The lack of public transportation necessitates options for safe rides.
By Mouthampton (439), Southampton on Mar 30, 17 8:02 PM
1 member liked this comment
The local taxis are dirty, and overpriced.
It is definitly a buzzkill when you want to go out and have a few drinks but you do not cause of massivly overpriced unreliable taxis . Uber has a great track record. I hope they do good on the east end .
By chucketzel (4), East Hampton on Mar 30, 17 9:53 PM
1 member liked this comment
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By North Sea Citizen (568), North Sea on Mar 31, 17 6:18 AM
Suggesting that Uber is a bad alternative to dwi because it doesn't solve the problem is a phenomenally short sighted argument.
By SlimeAlive (1181), Southampton on Mar 31, 17 7:17 AM
Like with any successful business, local government tries to figure out how to make money off of it. UBER is a useful product that works well. People want to have a good time and not worry about driving. The community is constantly reminded about the perils of "buzzed" or drunk driving. UBER and LYFT tapped into the need and have been successful. Then along comes SH and EH towns to try and get a piece of the action. Glad they are being overturned.
By The Real World (368), southampton on Mar 31, 17 7:43 AM
Chaos in Montauk is that line up in 2 foot surf at Ditch. Never seen such a bunch of numb nuts on 9 foot boards.
By dfree (818), hampton bays on Mar 31, 17 10:12 AM
1 member liked this comment
Yo Dude Eaaaasy now
By Ditch Bum (929), Water Mill on Mar 31, 17 3:54 PM
Poor Poor Stan. He worked almost two years to get his Uber laws implemented...and poof..gone.
By Toma Noku (616), Southampton on Mar 31, 17 10:54 AM
Uber cash is greater than local can company cash, therefore NY. State Legislature legalizes Uber. SEIU cash is marginally better than Airbnb money, in New York City, therefore state legislators make Airbnb illegal in NYC. Large health insurance companies, pharma companies, and hospital tort attorneys money more than hospital money, therefore crap healthcare in NY State. Development company money more than environmental money therefore golf courses and dirty drinking water.. See a pattern?
By dfree (818), hampton bays on Mar 31, 17 12:18 PM
Chaos was watching the media and the crowd at the Javits center on election night,
lol, but but no what do you mean Hillary lost Pennsylvania what what did you just say and Michigan and Wisconsin now noooo WHAT YOU BETTER FIX THIS NOW WHaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
By Ditch Bum (929), Water Mill on Mar 31, 17 3:57 PM
I am convinced that anyone who is against Uber (or any comparable company) doesn't understand what it is (ie, they are are technologically illiterate), or they have never used it.
By wainscotter (18), wainscott on Apr 4, 17 1:39 PM
Well Uber may be a good thing but living in Montauk and watching these unregulated Uber drivers blowing stop signs, speeding and taking turns at 50mph so they can get to their next call is a dangerous thing.
By mtkfish (59), montauk on Apr 4, 17 4:52 PM
Agreed. terrible, dangerous driving. But local cabs drive like maniacs too! Give some tickets. Police aren't that interested in that type of enforcement. They want bigger "scores". On another note, this is free enterprise. If you own a business and then have another store the same as your business move in two doors down, the merchants have to suck that up. So suck it up local taxis. Get your attitudes, fares and operations in line. Competition will prove where good business will thrive. Get to it!
By Woods woman (145), East hampton on Apr 4, 17 9:13 PM
Without Uber you will have more DWI activity. Seems like Uber is a safer alternative.
By Ernie (88), Hampton Bays on Apr 4, 17 5:14 PM
There is a huge misinformation about the Uber drivers' -so called- "unregulated" status here which is totally wrong!
All Uber drivers have TLC licenses from either NYC or Nassau Taxi Limousine Commissions and they are much more strictly regulated than the local cabbies (i.e. annual criminal background checks, annual drug tests, taxi/limo school certificate, medical report, proof of address, utility bills, proof of income, TLC mandatory commercial insurance policy, clean and new vehicles, rating ...more
By sobe (2), Hampton Bays on Apr 4, 17 6:47 PM
As long as every UBER and their drivers is held to the same standards as LOCAL cab companies and their drivers then let capitalism rule! If not then shut them down until they are.
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Apr 5, 17 7:29 AM
I hope that we can somehow prevent NYC uber drivers from heading out for the weekends and sleeping in their cars like last year...
By adlkjd923ilifmac.aladfksdurwp (747), southampton on Apr 6, 17 2:37 PM
1 member liked this comment
That's right! There are also some illegal Uber drivers committing fraud by using their old Uber accounts, driving uninsured, not registered, even out of state (Florida) plated vehicles (like an Escalade) in SH Village. Those illegal Uber drivers also need to be stopped same as homeless Uber drivers who come from the City and sleep in their vehicles!
By sobe (2), Hampton Bays on Apr 7, 17 10:25 AM