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Jun 14, 2015 1:59 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Uber Arraignments Adjourned To July; Attorney Says Criminal Records Is Biggest Fear For Drivers

Attorney Daniel Rodgers represented 20 Uber drivers in East Hampton Town Justice Court on Monday afternoon. Most of the cases were adjourned until late July. M. Wright
Jun 16, 2015 12:50 PM

Representatives of the Uber driver-for-hire car service said this week that East Hampton Town officials reneged on a deal to reduce criminal charges against more than 20 of its drivers after the company led a publicity campaign to direct pressure on town lawmakers to allow the company to resume operations.

An Uber spokesman said Friday that company executives who met with town officials and attorneys earlier this month were told that if the company agreed to halt its operations in the town, which it did on June 5, the drivers would face reduced charges and only have to pay fines. But, the company says, the town backed out on the deal after Uber's users around the country were urged to contact town officials to voice their displeasure with the municipality’s taxi licensing requirements.

East Hampton Supervisor Larry Cantwell's office was flooded with more than 1500 emails and hundreds of phone calls, mostly supporting Uber in the days after the company announced it would deactivate its mobile phone-based app withing East Hampton Town's borders.

“Part of the reason we pulled out was that we were told if we left the charges against the drivers would be dropped,” Uber spokesman Mathew Wing said late last week. “The town prosecutor [is] trying to pursue the maximum penalty under the law, which would make it a misdemeanor. They face up to a year in jail for ostensibly not having a business office.”

Assistant Town Attorney Michael Sendlenski said on Friday that no deal was ever brokered with Uber for reducing the charges against its drivers, contingent on the company shutting down its app or otherwise. Mr. Sendlenski said he could not comment on pending criminal charges and potential plea deals, but offered that the characterization of the June 5 conversation between Uber executives and town officials are “not accurate.”

On Monday afternoon, six Uber drivers were arraigned in town justic court on misdemeanor charges of violating the town’s taxi licensing law. If found guilty, the drivers each face minimum fines of at least $500 and could receive up to one year in jail. All six drivers plead not guilty.

More than a dozen other drivers had their arraignments postponed until July because the court had not yet received detailed reports from police on their initial arrests, a point that their lawyer, Southampton attorney Daniel Rodgers, said was a point of considerable frustration for the drivers, who will now have to return to East Hampton for another court date.

"They lose a whole day's work with this," Mr. Rodgers said after Monday's court appearence.

The town amended its taxi licensing ordinance last year to require that any cabs operating in the town be registered at a local address, a step town officials have said was necessary to get a handle on the hundreds of taxis that had started working in Montauk in recent years. At one time, there were more than 700 taxis with town licenses—many of them for Uber drivers—most of them from western Long Island and New York City, drawn east by the prospect of high demand and high average fares in the increasingly popular easternmost hamlet. Since the ordinance went into effect over the winter, the number has decreased to around 300 town code enforcement officials say.

Drivers that "partner" with Uber own their cars independently and must each get their own taxi license from the town in order to operate. Some other taxi companies based in the town have dozens of vehicles registered under a single taxi license.

East Hampton Town Police and ordinance enforcement officers issued dozens of violations to the Uber drivers, primarily in Montauk, over the Memorial Day weekend and the following weekend. Most of the charges were for operating a taxi service without a town-issued taxi license, which requires the vehicle to be registered to an East Hampton Town address.

The charge carries a maximum penalty of a $1,000 fine and up to one year in jail.

One Uber driver was also charged with DWI and was arraigned earlier this month.

Mr. Rodgers said that the charges and potential punishments his clients are facing are excessive and an undue severity of prosecution on the part of the town.

"They're facing criminal charges for essentially operating a cab, to earn a living to support their families," Mr. Rodgers said outside the East Hampton court house. "That's not what the criminal law was intended to be. It should not rise to this level."

Uber executives were present at the court building on Monday but made no statement and didn't address the drivers as a group.

Over the last two summers, Uber claims to have given some 26,500 rides in East Hampton Town, to more than 14,000 separate customers. The company says that 6,300 of those customers are "full time" East Hampton residents.

Mr. Rodgers said he and his clients will try to work out a compromise with the town to dispense with the criminal cases against them so that the drivers do not end up with criminal records.

Uber has led a campaign over the last week to place public pressure on East Hampton Town officials for the stringent requirements to obtain a town taxi license. The requirements are the most demanding of any that the company has encountered in the more than 150 U.S. cities where it operates.

“In all the cities we operate in, the concept of facing jail time for not having a business license—it just doesn’t happen,” Mr. Wing said. “It’s a fine.”

Ordinance enforcement officers have said that during the first two weekends of summer, Uber drivers had told them the company had offered to pay any fines for violations they received as an incentive for the drivers to continue traveling to East Hampton to work on the weekends.

East Hampton Supervisor Larry Cantwell said last week that there are options for the company to continue working in the town. The company could hire local drivers, with local addresses, that could recieve a town taxi license. Or, he said last Tuesday, the company could create a local business address and have its drivers re-register their vehicles at that address.

Uber, which is based in California, has cited statistics from other states that appear to show a drop in DWI arrests, particularly among young people, after the company begins operating in a region. In Seattle, the company says, DWIs dropped by 10 percent.

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So if I'm in east hampton I can't call a taxi based in Sag harbor? Or, I can call Uber, but they first have to touch a tire in Southampton town to make it legal to taker back to an East Hampton destination?
By bambi (76), bridgehampton on Jun 14, 15 2:19 PM
Follow the rules. Uber can make a minor change to their business model to adjust to eat laws and codes. All they need to do is rent an office. It's not hard to make it happen. Uber just doesn't want to.
With that said I do feel that uber does provide a needed service to east hampton.
By H2O (85), easthampton on Jun 14, 15 2:30 PM
2 members liked this comment
Sounds like East Hampton government is overreaching here by putting people in jail for this controversial infraction. Since Uber as agreed to not operate just fine the drivers. These people were only trying to make an honest living . God forbid they stole from anyone, or charged an outrageous rent to an overcrowded home, or made customers pay ridiculous prices for a drink.
By Toma Noku (616), uptown on Jun 14, 15 6:04 PM
1 member liked this comment
Montauk is a drinking town with a fishing problem. Cabs are needed. Perhaps the local silver lining if there is that much demand would be to hire more workers and buy more vans to expand your business and create a local app to get fares. Why let outsiders take the money away. We have plenty of college kids home seeking summer only employment. In the off season just park the extra cabs that aren't needed. You can get insurance for only 6 months which would cover it. Maybe Ill open up my own company.....
By North Sea Citizen (568), North Sea on Jun 14, 15 6:07 PM
Correction: small drinking village with a big fishing problem.
By Duckbornandraised (184), Eastport on Jun 15, 15 7:33 PM
I'm glad the Town is getting aggressive and filing misdemeanor charges.

Fines would just be a cost of doing business for a billion dollar company like
Uber. They'd probalby just add a "violation surcharge" to their already overpriced fares.
Sick of "pop up stores" and limo drivers from Brooklyn coming out here to cash in on the summer money out here.

I agree with NSC above--let the local residents buy insurance, develop an app, and keep the money in Town.
By aging hipster (201), Southampton on Jun 15, 15 7:04 AM
Uber is a bully that just got punched in the nose. Pretty easy for a 72 billion dollar company to help its drivers conform to local regs if they wanted. But they don't. Anyone really believe that a single Uber driver will be around after Labor Day? I don't. My guess by next summer a local company will roll out a fleet of nice black cars that please the gentle sensibilities of our city friends. Is is that hard to dial a cab number on an Iphone that only an app will do?
By harbor (415), East Hampton on Jun 15, 15 8:51 AM
UBER is the greatest thing. The reason why they are successful is that it fits a need. That is America. Why profits come into play here makes no sense. It does cut down on drunk driving, not just kids use the service, and if it disappears after the summer, so be it. All the people also disappear. Most "local" businesses cannot survive unless the summer crowd shows up.
By The Real World (368), southampton on Jun 15, 15 2:45 PM
2 members liked this comment
Who cares if they disappear after summer?? They are just here because there is currently a demand. If we really didn't need them, they wouldn't be here, cause no body would use them. The market is speaking to you, and many of you are trying to fight it - why? Why are so many of you upset if additional choices are provided? This is only good for the majority of us who aren't in the taxi business. So what if the driver comes from Brooklyn etc... Why do you have to live where you work? People ...more
By SHResident (59), Southampton on Jun 15, 15 3:32 PM
1 member liked this comment
If Uber drivers wish to work out here then all they have to do is comply with the same regs as everyone else. Don't understand why that's a big hurdle for them. Explain this to me.
By harbor (415), East Hampton on Jun 15, 15 4:06 PM
The rules aren't fair, that's the issue. No other industry out here do you need to have a local address to work. Not carpenters, school teachers, landscapers, service industry, etc. It's strictly setup to stop businesses like Uber.
By SHResident (59), Southampton on Jun 15, 15 5:03 PM
3 members liked this comment
Rules are the same for all which is the benchmark of fairness. Uber can recruit local drivers? Right? Carpenters, electricians etc must obtain a license to work in East Hampton. We all know that Uber doesn't screen its workforce.
By harbor (415), East Hampton on Jun 16, 15 9:28 AM
you don't need a physical address in EH to get a license for any other trade. the individual employees also don't need licenses. so the rules aren't the same.
By marcd (7), southampton on Jun 16, 15 1:21 PM
The rules are not the same. That's the whole point. The rules were created to specifically address Uber's business model. This is a clear case of small town corruption, passing onerous laws to favor existing taxi businesses. The problem is that uber is a game changer. Maybe uber the company won't survive but the technology of hailing rides through apps is here to stay. In a few years the traditional taxi will be obsolete. Nothing can change this.
By wainscotter (18), wainscott on Jun 16, 15 1:52 PM
1 member liked this comment
No, the rules were created prior to Uber becoming a player here. Out of town, unregulated, unlicensed, uninsured drivers with improperly inspected and registered vehicles charging outrageous fares was becoming the norm to the danger of everyone on the streets. The fact that the "appers" need the consistency of Uber in their lives does not create a real need for that specific company to provide a service on the East End.

The requirements are not onerous. I don't see anything that would ...more
By VOS (1241), WHB on Jun 16, 15 4:19 PM
2 members liked this comment
No other industry drives people around, putting there life in danger(yes, an Uber driver was ticketed for DWI). And the service industry does have to comply with local laws regarding permits, time of work, licensing.
By Callie (30), Sag Harbor on Jun 15, 15 5:35 PM
Seems strange that folks line up at the 7-11, get hired for cash money to do dangerous chores, day after daym year after year, and that's hands off for the police. A few other folks, who are tracked digitally and have detailed job records of their behavior available online, these are the people who get arrested immediately.
By davidf (325), hampton bays on Jun 15, 15 9:09 PM
Not at all the same - and the drivers did not get arrested and certainly not "immediately". As per the article:

"East Hampton Town Police and ordinance enforcement officers issued dozens of violations to the Uber drivers, primarily in Montauk, over the Memorial Day weekend and the following weekend. Most of the charges were for operating a taxi service without a town-issued taxi license, which requires the vehicle to be registered to an East Hampton Town address."

It seems to ...more
By Nature (2966), Southampton on Jun 17, 15 9:47 AM
Political correctness dictates that the illegals prostituting themselves at 7-11 are a protected class , untouchable as it were. Not so for cabbies. If Uber would follow East Hampton's regulations there would be no issue.
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Jun 16, 15 5:51 AM