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Jun 5, 2015 12:11 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Uber Halts Service In East Hampton, Montauk

Jun 10, 2015 10:56 AM

Uber, the driver-for-hire company that connects cars to clients using a mobile phone application, has indefinitely halted operations in East Hampton Town, saying it could not find a way for its drivers to operate legally under the town’s newly restrictive taxi licensing requirements.

The company continues to send drivers to Southampton Town, where taxi licensing requirements are much less stringent—though some local taxi companies say they would like to see Southampton take similar steps as East Hampton to rein in the company.

An Uber company spokesman said last Friday, June 5, that Uber executives had met with East Hampton Town officials that morning, trying to work out an 11th-hour arrangement that would allow the company’s independently owned and operated cars to continue picking up fares in East Hampton through the Uber mobile-phone app.

But the Uber spokesman, Mathew Wing, said that the town was intractable in its insistence that every Uber driver must have his or her vehicle registered with an East Hampton Town address in order to obtain a town-issued taxi license. Without such a license, Uber drivers would continue to be issued violations if found picking up customers and could, eventually, face up to 30 days in jail.

“For the last several summers, Uber obtained local licenses from the Town of East Hampton so residents could get reliable and affordable rides with the push of a button,” Mr. Wing said. “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.”

Over the previous two weekends, East Hampton Town Police and ordinance enforcement officers had issued more than two dozen violations to Uber drivers for violating the town’s taxi licensing law, primarily in Montauk.

Drivers had reportedly been encouraged by Uber’s management to continue working in Montauk on weekends despite the town’s laws and that any fines levied on them would be paid by the company. But when town attorneys noted that repeated violations by drivers could be punishable by up to 30 days in jail, the company found no other recourse but to halt its operations.

“We met with them today, and they agreed to shut down their application in the Town of East Hampton in recognition of the town’s licensing provisions,” Supervisor Larry Cantwell said on Friday morning after meeting with Uber representatives.

At noon on Friday, the company sent out an email to all its registered “riders” informing them of the end of the service in East Hampton and asking them to lobby the town to change its taxi licensing law to allow Uber to operate.

“Today, the East Hampton Town supervisor is banning Uber,” the email read. “New rules would require every single Uber driver-partner to have an office in East Hampton to continue to hold their license, which is impossible for our partners. As a result, riders like you will be unable to get reliable, safe rides in any part of East Hampton out to Montauk—effective immediately,” the email continued.

“We need your help to bring Uber back,” it said. “Make your voice heard and contact Town Supervisor Cantwell today—tell him you need Uber in East Hampton.”

In the first two hours after the Uber notification was sent, Mr. Cantwell said his office received more than 100 phone calls and 600 emails from around the country, mostly in protest of the town’s position. “Some are from East Hampton, some are from afar: Seattle, Boston and elsewhere,” the supervisor said of the messages he received. “Most of them are supportive of Uber, but not all of them. We understand this is part of their strategy—and that’s fine.”

The Uber service, which operates in nearly 60 countries around the globe and more than 150 cities in the United States, uses a mobile phone application and GPS tracking to connect its drivers to customers. A customer can summon a car with the press of a button, and the driver homes in on the GPS signal from the customer’s phone. The drivers are independent contractors licensed by Uber, and fares are paid automatically with credit cards linked to the Uber phone app.

Cars operating through the Uber app have been working in East Hampton since the summer of 2012, Mr. Wing said. Last year, the company was issued an umbrella license that allowed all of the independent drivers to operate in the town under a single license.

But since the end of last summer, the town redrafted its taxi licensing code to require that a cab company have a physical business address in the town, even if only in a home office, and that any cars operating under the license be registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles at that business address.

Because Uber’s business model relies on cars owned independently by drivers, the town insisted that each driver would have to have a taxi license, and that any Uber vehicles would each have to be registered locally in order to receive a license.

In Southampton Town, the company’s drivers do not face such roadblocks to their operations. Southampton does have a taxi licensing requirement, but it applies only to taxis that pick up fares that aren’t prearranged. Livery cabs, which customers arrange to meet at a certain time and place ahead of time, are not required to have licenses. Even those drivers who want to pick up walk-up customers would need only to fill out a relatively simple application to receive a Southampton Town taxi license; there are no residency requirements, only a criminal history background check, fingerprints and a valid driver’s license

The Uber app model of ride arrangements would qualify as livery under Southampton’s definition. But in East Hampton, the bulk of the violations issued to Uber drivers went to cars that were simply waiting at train stations and bars for walk-up customers, which would also require a license in Southampton.

Some Southampton taxi drivers said that Uber has put a dent in their already declining business and that the Uber drivers don’t follow accepted etiquette for getting their fares.

“Five years ago, Southampton was the hot spot—it had three major [nightclubs]—but now the hot spot is Montauk,” said Robert Jaigobin, a cab driver for All Hampton Taxi, who said that his seasonal income has declined in recent years from as much as $17,000 to less than $9,000. “We don’t have a problem with Uber. We just have no room to work and there is no control. Cab companies are standard and stay in the line. Uber doesn’t have policies.”

Another driver, Robert Bouzidi, said the Uber drivers will get out of their cars and solicit rides from people leaving restaurants and clubs in person, which he says local cab companies are not supposed to do under accepted etiquette. Some Uber drivers, he said, even pay bouncers to direct fares to them.

Though Southampton’s cab drivers said that Uber rides are generally more expensive—sometimes a lot more expensive—to go the same distance, the company still takes fares from them because of the convenience of credit card payments.

“The town needs to do something about it,” Mr. Bouzidi said. “We make money in the summer to live in the winter.”

Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said that town officials have not heard complaints from the local cab companies that would spur consideration of tightening the town’s taxi law. “In fact, I’ve been told that their presence is pretty sparse in the town,” she said of Uber. “It doesn’t sound, from what I’ve been told by people, like there’s all that many in Southampton.”

Mr. Cantwell, the East Hampton supervisor, said that his town’s law was not rewritten specifically to trip up Uber, but was tailored to address a burgeoning problem of cabs from all over Long Island and the metro area coming to East Hampton on busy summer weekends the last couple summers.

“In no way were these laws created with Uber in mind,” Mr. Cantwell said. “We had cabs coming from all over into the town to pick up a quick buck on the weekends, and it created a problem in the community, especially in Montauk.

“At one time, there were more than 700 cabs that were licensed to do business in East Hampton,” he added. “The law is intended to bring order to that situation.”

The East Hampton Town law applies only to hired travel entirely within the township. It does not prevent Uber drivers from picking up fares outside of the town and bringing them to an East Hampton location. And the law would not prohibit someone in East Hampton from hailing a car through the Uber app, to be taken to a location outside the town.

Code officers acknowledged last week that if Uber drivers had stuck solely to picking up fares who hailed them through the app, the town would have had a much harder time cracking down on them. But many Uber drivers, when they did not have rides booked through the app, had taken to parking at popular restaurants, bars and the Montauk train station to await walk-up fares. Undercover police and code officers had solicited rides and then demanded to see town-issued licenses.

By noon on Friday, individuals accessing the Uber app from East Hampton—the app worked on the west side of Townline Road, but not the east—saw only a banner reading: “Uber Is Unavailable. Voice Your Support,” followed by the phone number for East Hampton Town Hall.

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Just another example of why DWI's are so prevalent on Long Island. Cab companies on the East End are extremely overpriced and will charge multiple full price fares when people try to share a cab with different drop off locations. Uber, Lyft and other such affordably priced apps are an excellent option for those who have been drinking or don't have a car of their own. Thanks, Larry Cantwell, for taking that option that could save lives away.
By Mouthampton (439), Southampton on Jun 5, 15 12:40 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By Reaz1010, Briarwood on Jun 5, 15 2:58 PM
competition is the back bone of america and keeps everyone honest

these hampton towns are crazy

you buy a house and you don't own anything
cant cut down a tree or replace a window without permission from big brother
By llimretaw (118), watermill on Jun 5, 15 5:17 PM
Nice to know corruption wins again. Thanks to this non-arrangement, I and countless others will continue to drink and drive. Well done everyone.
By johnj (1024), Westhampton on Jun 5, 15 12:57 PM
John, it isn't corruption, it's Government Bureaucracy .
By Mark Markarian (2), Pleasantville on Jun 6, 15 10:49 AM
1 member liked this comment
I didn't know there was a difference.
By johnj (1024), Westhampton on Jun 10, 15 10:55 AM
You'll continue to drink and drive.. way to be responsible. You'd rather risk killing yourself or someone else than calling a cab company that is operating within the rules of the town?
By Rich Morey (378), East Hampton on Jun 15, 15 1:28 PM
If someone wants to give someone else a ride for free or for $ it should be there business, Don't tell me whats good for me, I should not drive drunk since it can cause harm to others ( Agreed ) but don't tell me a seat belt is for my own good and don't tell me who I can take a ride from!
By 27dan (2854), Shinnecock Hills on Jun 15, 15 3:29 PM
There are 700 taxis in East Hampton because East Hampton *needs* 700 taxis on a Saturday night. Of all those companies, Uber is the most reliable, the most available and the most fairly priced. If Cantwell wants things to go back to the way they were, when you'd give up on Paul's Taxi after they hadn't shown up for 2 hours, then the blood of the people killed by drunk drivers this summer will be on Larry Cantwell's hands. This petty dispute between locals and surflodgers that's been raging for years ...more
By left.on.27 (1), Bridgehampton on Jun 5, 15 1:03 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By Reaz1010, Briarwood on Jun 5, 15 3:00 PM
East Hampton Town Board: Defying common sense since 2014.
By localEH (427), East Hampton on Jun 5, 15 1:50 PM
1 member liked this comment
Thank you Cantwell!!

Those that don't agree don't know the facts of the situation or are an Uber corporate schill.

I use Uber when I am in NYC but out in Montauk they charge as much as 4 times MORE then what the local companies charge. what can be a $10 dollar cab ride with a local company becomes a $40 dollar cab ride with uber.

When i say local cab company I mean the ones who are actually based in Montauk. Not those from Southampton or East Hampton who only come to ...more
By Real Local (2), montauk on Jun 5, 15 2:26 PM
1 member liked this comment
Who cares how much more the Uber ride is...The rider can get the price before-hand, and decide for themselves if they want to pay the quoted rate. And, what good is a cheaper local cab if you can't get one?! That's why Uber is (was) flourishing out here...Because on Saturday nights, good luck getting a local cab to show up, they're drastically over-booked.

By TheWaterMillian (34), Water Mill on Jun 11, 15 4:52 PM
Also... Saying that Uber reduces the amount of drunk driving is STUPID. Please show me some actual research that shows having Uber reduces the amount of drunk driving in the Hamptons. There are plenty of cabs without Uber. Those that say they will drive drunk because there is no Uber to pick them up should blame themselves for making such a poor life choice. DON'T DRINK IF YOU WANT TO DRIVE. If you can't find a way to get home don't blame others. Blame yourself. Honestly can't believe some people ...more
By Real Local (2), montauk on Jun 5, 15 3:56 PM
The wave of fedora wearing hipster a******s will peter out eventually and we will have Montauk back again. As to the topic, I agree with the Town's position that protects LOCAL businesses.
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Jun 5, 15 5:31 PM
Hack license ~~ aircraft pilot license.

No license? No lawful operation of vehicle.

Simple stuff.

Fiddle Fiddle Fiddle !!!
By Nero (301), Sag Harbor on Jun 6, 15 6:54 AM
1 member liked this comment
Valid point.

So lets FORCE State Government to create a real driver's test for Cabbies like the Federal Government has for Pilot's.

This will leave the business end open to anyone who has a license for competent commercial operation of a taxi and end the monopoly of Medallions in the City and contracts with villages and towns.
By Mark Markarian (2), Pleasantville on Jun 6, 15 10:56 AM
If taxis had to go through the same level of licensure as pilots there would be no taxis. But some increased level of stricter testing for commercial carriers like taxis is warranted.
By localEH (427), East Hampton on Jun 6, 15 2:55 PM
At least they have 3rd party liability which private pilots do not need!!!!!

By Trish (91), Sag Harbor on Jun 11, 15 2:00 PM
All the Uber drivers have to do is comply with EH taxi licensing laws, just like everyone else.

Simple stuff.

No melodrama required.

Fiddle Fiddle Fiddle !!!
By Nero (301), Sag Harbor on Jun 6, 15 5:10 PM
1 member liked this comment
So the 220 licensed taxi drivers in East Hampton live and have offices here? Funny, they aint in the phone book. It's more like the usual: a friend of the town board who runs/owns a taxi complained.
As for the poster who says UBER charges 4 times as much --you haven't been in Montauk at 4 AM and watched the cash change hands. The local guys are wheeling and dealing just like everyone else.
By nazznazz (276), east hampton on Jun 6, 15 8:52 PM
So how many taxi drivers really live in Montauk? Names, please. And tell us where their offices are. I see two.
Jeez, i thought ll the people sleeping at the Lighthouse were waiting to play golf at the Downs!
By nazznazz (276), east hampton on Jun 6, 15 8:55 PM
good for EH-Uber needs to be stopped
By westhamptonboy (227), Westhampton on Jun 7, 15 4:06 AM
Why is that West Hamp Boy ? becuase there making $
By 27dan (2854), Shinnecock Hills on Jun 15, 15 3:25 PM

We cant have people running around being entrepreneurs without strict government regulation, what next non union workers on the job site or god forbid competition, What do you think this is some sort of free republic we have put that silly notion behind us in the ln the last 8 years
Jun 20, 15 2:03 PM appended by 27dan
What we need is government workers to transport people around town in electric vehicles, this way we will be able to make sure the process is fair and there is the proper balance and diversity in the people that rides are given to. Also you will have to fill out the proper paperwork, a qestionair asking if there is any domestic abuse or firearms in your home and show Identification before the ride begins, also the fee of coarse will be 40% higher for anyone making over what the TLC considers the poverty level, everyone else will receive a government subsidy and ride for a Quarter
By 27dan (2854), Shinnecock Hills on Jun 20, 15 2:03 PM
1 member liked this comment
All UBER has to do is open an office here on the East End and have drivers register their vehicles. But they don't care much about their customers or drivers to spend a few of their 40 billion bucks. If you think local taxis suck then rent a car and have a designated driver like a freaki' adult. What a bunch of babies.
By harbor (415), East Hampton on Jun 8, 15 3:30 PM
1 member liked this comment
Oh moi gawd, whatever will East Hampron do without Uber?

Oh -- I guess they'll do the same thing they did before Uber existed.

Nobody's indespensible.
By btdt (449), water mill on Jun 11, 15 4:54 PM
1 member liked this comment
Exactly! Uber isn't solving a problem that didn't exist before Uber existed. And reading some of these comments makes me think everyone drank and drove before Uber because the existing taxi companies were either too expensive or unreliable but I'm hopeful that was not actually the case. Of course, none of those commenters suggested moderating their intake or having a designated driver within their social group.
By Rich Morey (378), East Hampton on Jun 15, 15 1:33 PM
1 member liked this comment