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Mar 16, 2016 9:36 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Town Faces Opposition From Uber, Cab Companies Regarding Proposed Taxi Rules

Bryan Daparma, owner of Hometown Taxi in Southampton Village, said Southampton Town's proposed livery driver license law will hurt local taxi companies. ALYSSA MELILLO
Mar 18, 2016 10:26 AM

Various camps, including the mobile app company Uber, have come out in opposition to Southampton Town’s proposal to regulate livery vehicles—with one side arguing that the proposal is too much, and the other saying it’s not enough.

An amendment to the existing taxi and vehicle-for-hire law would include regulating the drivers of vehicles operating through transportation network companies, like Uber and Lyft, by requiring them to register with the town clerk’s office, just as drivers with local taxicab companies do. That way, the town could oversee those drivers as well, and even regulate the number of them doing business.

Councilman Stan Glinka, the Town Board’s transportation liaison, who proposed the regulations earlier this year, said their purpose is to “level the playing field” for drivers and companies.

A public hearing on the proposed changes has been scheduled for Tuesday, March 22, at 6 p.m. at Southampton Town Hall.

“This is not to harm anybody—just putting everybody on the same playing field,” Mr. Glinka reiterated this week. “I’m not trying to push anybody out, I’m not trying to put anybody out of business. Just trying to give everybody the same equal opportunity.”

Under the town code, a livery driver would be classified as a driver who can pick up passengers only when the ride is prearranged online, through a mobile app, or via telephone. A taxicab driver, on the other hand, would be able pick up passengers with a prearranged pickup or on the spot—for example, at a train station or outside a club.

Companies like Uber and Lyft, as well as their drivers, would need the same licenses that registered taxi companies must obtain to operate in the town. Like taxi drivers, Uber and Lyft drivers would have to 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 company with only one car and one driver, the business pays $1,000 a year to operate; the more cars and drivers a company has, the higher the annual town fees would be.

To date, Uber drivers have not been paying fees because they have not been required to register to operate in Southampton Town. But if the proposed regulations are adopted, and drivers continue to operate without registering, they would be subject to the penalties outlined in the current law, which states that an offender will face a misdemeanor charge and a fine of at least $500, then a fine of up to $1,000 for a second offense, and a fine up to $1,500 for a third.

Drivers would also be responsible for all fees associated with fingerprinting and background checks required by the town for the licenses to be issued. However, if they are already registered with the Suffolk County Department of Labor, Licensing and Consumer Affairs, which requires fingerprinting, they would not need to provide that form of identification to the town.

Over the past week, town officials have been on the receiving end of a slew of complaints about the proposed regulations. Mr. Glinka was also contacted by Uber on Tuesday and will meet with officials from the company at Town Hall later this week, he said.

Much as it did when East Hampton Town adopted tougher regulations last year, Uber sent emails to customers with listed home addresses in the town on Monday, stating that the Town Board “is voting on new rules that could prevent Uber driver-partners from operating in your town, and take away your ability to get a reliable ride at the tap of a button.” The message urges people to contact Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman.

“Even though every Uber driver-partner in Southampton undergoes a rigorous government screening administered by the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission and has insurance coverage up to [four times] that of Southampton taxis, [town officials are] trying to force Uber driver-partners to go through additional, unnecessary and expensive bureaucratic requirements,” the email reads. “These hard-working drivers have already paid thousands of dollars to become licensed, and now they may be required to pay an additional $1,000 to get a second approval from Southampton.”

Alix Anfang, a spokesperson for Uber, added that the proposed changes “protect local taxi interests at the expense of hard-working Uber driver-partners who are trying to earn a living on the platform. There is an unquestionable need and demand for Uber in Southampton, because taxi service has been historically unreliable,” she wrote in an email.

Mr. Schneiderman said on Tuesday that he has received nearly 80 emails in Uber’s favor, as well as a letter from the nonprofit organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD. In the letter, MADD New York State Executive Director Richard C. Mallow states that services like Uber and Lyft reduce drunken driving incidents, and that it is the town’s duty to ensure residents and visitors “have access to reliable and affordable transportation.”

“They’ve certainly been conducting a campaign,” Mr. Schneiderman said of Uber. “Some of the things that they’re suggesting, such as [the town requiring] additional fingerprinting, is not the case. This law, from the start, was about leveling the playing field. There was an unfair advantage.”

The supervisor said that there is a loophole in the current law because people don’t hail taxis in Southampton Town the way they do in New York City, but instead prearrange their pickups—just like those who use Uber. “Operationally, [Uber is] identical to the taxis. We just have to fix the law so that all entities are living and abiding by the same law,” he said.

At the other end of the opposition are local taxicab company owners, who said they would rather see officials follow in the footsteps of East Hampton Town, which implemented regulations last year that required vehicles to be registered with an East Hampton Town address in order to obtain a town-issued taxi license. The move resulted in Uber ceasing operations there.

“It’s not good enough. If we go to the city, we get the sticker, and we want to go work in the city, they’re going to tow our car,” said Rahat “Ali” Mumtaz, the owner of All Hampton Taxi, based in Southampton Village. “They don’t hire any local people. There’s not even one person from here to work for them. They only come on weekends, take the business, and go away.”

Bryan Daparma, the owner of HomeTown Taxi, also in the village, said the proposed changes would not stop Uber drivers from picking up street fares and, overall, would not help out local companies like his. “They are just rewording their existing law to include the term ‘transportation network company’ … which doesn’t help us at all. It does nothing to help local businesses,” he said. “If they want to allow me to open up a TGI Fridays and a Red Lobster on the highway and take away from all the local restaurants, then let Uber in. Make it a fair field.”

Mr. Glinka said that while he understands the threat felt by local taxi companies, there should be competition and a variety of options for clients.

“I believe in fair play. I don’t believe in having a monopoly. You have to look at everybody that’s going to be affected by it,” he said. “This whole Uber thing has been an nationwide concern. For a while there, I felt like every other day I was seeing something on national media. It’s everywhere.”

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All taxi's should be licensed and inspected by the town at random. Used a local taxi once and it stunk...
By knitter (1941), Southampton on Mar 16, 16 11:01 AM
Another layer of Government regulation andd taxation! Don't have a lot of faith in Town Government at the moment -- of for the past decade for that matter!

By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Mar 16, 16 11:56 AM
Southampton should follow East Hampton's lead and require all taxi's to be licensed and clearly marked with a license sticker and number.
By Rich Morey (378), East Hampton on Mar 16, 16 12:00 PM
1 member liked this comment
The Town doesn't regulate the local taxi companies so why start now?
By johnj (1024), Westhampton on Mar 16, 16 12:09 PM
Another money grab by Government. Uber provides an alternative lower cost better quality of travel. I use it everywhere and extremely satisfied with their management of the system. Possibly the taxi companies need to step up- accept change- and become Uber drivers themselves.
By realistic (472), westhampton on Mar 16, 16 1:13 PM
Municipalities are looking for more sources of income because the amount of drunk driving arrests have been down since UBER came into existence. You do not need to carry money, and the system works. If local taxi companies evolved to the 21st century and changed their business model would they still be complaining? Time to adapt to the reality.
By The Real World (368), southampton on Mar 16, 16 3:23 PM
1 member liked this comment
Uber is like airbnb. They both operate without regulation and concern for public safety in mind. Airbnb turns residential homes into motels without any defined standards, and without regard for the property rights of neighbors. They also take business from licensed motel operators who have regular health inspections in rooms, restaurants, pools etc… How would you like the house next door to became a transient location on a daily basis? Strange people near your kids constantly? Reducing ...more
By 1eastquogueinusa (34), East Quogue on Mar 17, 16 1:36 PM
1 member liked this comment
While spending energy on what taxis shuttle people around seems important, wouldn't it make sense to try and figure out how to keep people from getting killed on county road 39?
It has become a death highway and nobody seems to care....
What gives?
By Rayman (64), southampton on Mar 21, 16 1:25 PM
Level the playing field? That's hilarious! What about construction workers who have to pay the license fee, all the insurances, all the taxes,,do all the right things, then the town turns a blind eye to unlicensed, uninsured, possibly illegal workers! Not just working for cash but getting subsidied with free food, oil, health insurance, clothing etc. because they don't "show any income" making it impossibly to compete at twice the price.
By sentinel (8), southampton on Mar 24, 16 7:02 AM