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Feb 9, 2016 3:12 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Town Plans To Regulate Uber Service

Zoom Taxi owner George Monsour addresses the Southampton Town Board. BY ERIN MCKINLEY
Feb 9, 2016 5:01 PM

At a work session on Thursday, February 4, Southampton Town decided to revamp the way it regulates taxicabs to further define taxi or livery services, and require each driver to have locally issued licenses—forcing those who offer rides through app-based companies like Uber to secure permits that local taxi drivers need.

The move is being proposed by Councilman Stan Glinka, who says that while the competition Uber provides is good, it is also not fair to registered taxi companies that pay significant fees just to do business in Southampton Town.

“I don’t want to take the stance of completely abolishing Uber, but I wanted to put everybody on the same playing field,” Mr. Glinka said this week of his proposal. “In doing so, I was working with [Assistant Town Attorney] Carl Benincasa on the legislation we are proposing that would be to put everybody on the same playing field. And so everybody would have to register with the town clerk and have a permit to operate within the Town of Southampton.”

According to Town Clerk Sundy Schermeyer, registered taxi companies in Southampton Town currently must have several licenses to operate. First, the drivers must be operating under a registered business, which requires an owner’s license that costs $750. There is also a $150 license fee for each vehicle, plus a $100 fee per operator. For a cab company with only one car and one operator, the business pays $1,000 a year to operate; the more cars and drivers a company has, the higher the annual town fees will be.

The drivers also are responsible for all fees associated with fingerprinting and background checks required by the town for the licenses to be issued.

In 2015, there were 37 taxi businesses registered with Southampton Town. There were 141 registered taxi drivers, and 206 taxi vehicles had been issued permits. The cars get a different decal every year once they have been registered.

“If I were a taxi company paying a thousand dollars a year, I would be pissed off at all of these guys doing the same work without paying all of the fees,” said Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman.

According to Mr. Benincasa, under the Uber model, which operates as what the town calls a transportation network company, the drivers are not considered company employees but independent contractors. Under the new rules, the parent company would not have to register as a taxi business with the town—but to follow the town code, any Uber driver would have to register for their own business permits and be subject to the same fees as a taxicab company.

Mr. Benincasa explained that Uber drivers are not classified as taxi drivers but as livery drivers. The difference, he said, is that taxi drivers are allowed under law to pick up passengers without prearranging the transportation—like at a train station, or outside a nightclub—while a livery driver must arrange for the pick-up ahead of time, as with a limousine. Currently, Southampton Town does not have a permit process for livery drivers operating in the town, deferring to Suffolk County and the state on regulations for livery companies.

Last summer, however, there were complaints that Uber drivers were standing outside bars and clubs ushering potential customers to their cars, a violation of the law. There also were reports that drivers would come to Southampton Town from farther west and spend the weekend in their cars, in several instances sleeping in the vehicles in parking lots.

The main changes being considered by the Town Board include redefining livery and taxi drivers to make it so that all transportation network company drivers must register as taxi drivers, requiring each driver to apply for a driver permit—although the more expensive business owner permit would not be required—and increasing the fines associated with being unregistered.

Town officials hope to work on intermunicipal agreements with local villages to ensure that the drivers working in the smaller municipalities also meet the town standards.

“We have had instances where we have denied taxi drivers permits because of issues that arose in their background checks. We do fingerprints, and they go to the police department, and what happens is, those people are then assigned by the companies to only drive within the village limits,” Ms. Schermeyer said. “There were situations that were serious and could have been avoided if we had jurisdiction.”

According to Ms. Schermeyer, the fines for first-time offenders should match the basic fees for registering a one-car business.

At last week’s work session, Town Board members agreed.

“Any one of us could set up and take our own cars on the weekend and start taxiing people around, and we don’t know who these individuals are that are driving for Uber,” Mr. Glinka said. “They are not registered with the town—we have no idea where they are coming from and what they are about. It starts causing a safety factor and concern, [let] alone in its impacting the local taxi companies.”

According to George Monsour, owner of Zoom Taxi in Westhampton, the taxi companies pay a lot of money for the licenses with Southampton Town and are not getting anything in return if the Uber drivers are being allowed to operate without penalty. Mr. Monsour’s company has been in business for four years. He has eight cars, and operates with 10 drivers during the busier summer months.

“The biggest concern is what is going on at night and at different times of the day when they are filling up their cars and taking away business from the taxis,” he told the Town Board on Thursday. “That is what we pay you guys for. We are here year-round, and from this town. They are from out of town.”

The board agreed last week that the changes will have to be made to the existing legislation as soon as possible if they are to go into effect for the upcoming summer season. A public hearing is expected to be scheduled in the next few weeks, and Mr. Glinka hopes to have the new regulations in place for April 1.

“The idea of leveling the playing field is a good idea,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “There are benefits to the Uber model—we don’t want people drinking and driving—and this helps.”

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How about regulating the price of a ride. Drivers pick up more than one person and then charge the going rate for each stop. Plus the cabs are dirty and dangerous. Before prohibiting competition, regulation of the existing taxi cabs must go into effect. Mr. Glinka should try riding in a few cabs to discover how dismal the service is and how expensive it is today.
By localcitizen (110), Southampton on Feb 10, 16 7:53 AM
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