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Jun 2, 2015 3:58 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

East Hampton Town Authorities Crack Down On Uber Taxi Violations

Jun 2, 2015 4:32 PM

East Hampton Town Police and Ordinance Enforcement officers have issued more than two dozen tickets to drivers working under the guise of the Uber driver-for-hire mobile app since Memorial Day weekend, including for things like sleeping in their cars and, in one instance, for drunken driving.

With the town in the second year of an effort to tighten local licensing requirements for taxi operators— even as the number of small, independently owned cab companies mushrooms rapidly—code enforcement and police officers have tried to clamp down on the mostly out-of-town Uber drivers who have spurred complaints from locally licensed taxi companies.

Over the last two weekends, a special detail of Town Police officers, not in uniform, and plainclothes ordinance officers conducted a “taxi initiative” to test the compliance with the town licensing requirements.

Over the last two weekends—thus far this summer, the Uber app has only shown its drivers present on the South Fork on the weekends—Town Police officers issued 18 violations to Uber drivers, 14 for operating without town-issued business licenses and four for sleeping in vehicles on side streets or in parking lots.

One of the drivers, Rafael Cabrera, 30, of New York City, was found by officers to be intoxicated after he was pulled over in Amagansett shortly after 4 a.m. on Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. No fare was in his car at the time.

Additionally, Ordinance Enforcement officers also issued Uber drivers nine tickets for operating without a town license. Most of the violations on both sides were issued by plain-clothed officers who solicited rides, unidentified, from the Uber drivers at various popular gathering places, rather than through the phone app.

Though the Uber business model calls for the driver and customer to connect through the Uber app, most of those ticketed were drivers who were simply parked outside popular bars or the Montauk train station, awaiting someone to ask for a ride.

“They cannot be hacks—that is not livery,” Town Director of Code Enforcement Betsy Bambrick said. “When we approach them … they are asked to produce a town business license, and when they can’t produce same, we issue them a violation.”

All of the citations issued, with the exception of the DWI charge, carry a minimum $500 fine. Rides from East Hampton to Montauk were estimated at between $130 and $175, according to the company’s phone app last Saturday night. Company policy is that rides cost $16 plus $5 per mile.

The bulk of the violations given to Uber drivers were issued in Montauk, where the company’s app showed as many as a dozen of its sponsored vehicles operating this past weekend, along with several others in and around East Hampton Village.

In an on-camera interview with a News12 reporter on Friday afternoon at the Montauk train station, one of the Uber drivers said that they had been told by the company that their violations issued in East Hampton Town would be paid for by the company—a claim that Ms. Bambrick said other drivers had confirmed to her officers.

Until the start of May of this year, all Uber drivers operated legally under an umbrella license issued to the company last year by the town. But that license expired May 1, and changes to the town code since last summer now require that the company meet a variety of other criteria, including having a physical business office within the town, in order to renew the license.

As yet, Uber has announced no plans to open an office in the town. Calls placed to the company this week were not returned.

“I guess Uber is protesting that their drivers are not able to be licensed because the company does not have a business location in the town,” Supervisor Larry Cantwell said of the company’s supposed pledge to reimburse its drivers for violations.

Ms. Bambrick said that the Uber vehicles could still operate in the town as livery cars, bringing people from outside the town into the town, and vice-versa. According to the language of the town’s licensing code, if the ride generates within the town and ends within the town, the vehicle must be licensed locally.

Ms. Bambrick acknowledged that those Uber rides that are arranged as intended by the company through the Uber app, even if they originated and terminated in the town, are technically illegal but would be more difficult to uncover from an enforcement standpoint.

But the Uber drivers have sparked the most complaints by then parking at popular pick-up spots and soliciting rides other than through the app.

“I get it—they’re out here, they want to make as much money as they can,” Ms. Bambrick said. “But that’s why this is such a problem. Liveries, traditionally, come from elsewhere and take you here or there. But then they don’t sit around and try to pick up other fares to take back. It’s a problem that needs addressing.”

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Guess it's time to raise the minimum fine. Must be impossible to find a place to park in Montauk given the number of taxis etc. Zone pricing would also eliminate fare gouging.
By harbor (415), East Hampton on Jun 3, 15 8:28 AM