The East Hampton Town Board is to hear from the public this evening about a proposed revision to existing taxi regulations. Under a law passed in 2011, the town requires a license to operate a taxi within its borders. The beefed-up provisions of the new law would require proof of insurance, fingerprinting and background checks of all drivers, and applications to be vetted by the Police Department. The law would also create a taxi review board.
These additions to the town’s taxi law may be for the best, but where the proposal begins to raise questions is in a provision that would limit taxi licenses to companies and individuals with a physical address within the town. It would be difficult to come up with a parallel example in which the town similarly restricts commercial activity to residents alone. Building contractors, for example, must be licensed to work in the town, but they can hail from elsewhere.
Furthermore, none of the proposed changes really addresses the taxi problem from the rider’s perspective. Out-of-town drivers are drawn here in the summer season by the prospect of making hundreds of dollars in a single night, shuttling revelers around on the party, share-house, and bar scenes. Even were taxi owners and individual drivers to obtain local business addresses, exorbitant prices would be likely to remain. This preys on those who have no other way home and creates a counterproductive incentive for those who might drive drunk instead.
And there is another hitch: The new regulations would not cover taxis that pick up or discharge passengers across the town line. Under those circumstances, taxis are regulated by Suffolk County, which just last year gained the right to do so by an act of the State Legislature. It is not clear how East Hampton Town’s effort would dovetail with the county’s, or if, technically, it would even be legal.
As proposed, the law would, in effect, create an improper monopoly for locally based livery companies while doing nothing to curb the sometimes outrageously high fares charged, especially for late-night rides. Although additional regulation appears warranted, East Hampton Town’s changes must be undertaken in concert with Suffolk’s authority and, foremost, with the right of passengers to a clean, safe, and affordable ride in mind.