Out of curiosity last week, we asked for a copy of an official list of taxi companies registered to do business in East Hampton Town. Interest has surged this summer in what taxi drivers do for several reasons, most having to do with mounting public annoyance, and it was fascinating to look over the business entities in the official registry. There are 86 outfits on the list, with almost 550 registered drivers active here — stunning numbers by any measure.
The town is phasing in a locals-only provision of dubious legality for taxi companies, but even if officials manage to successfully demand that all for-hire operators post an East Hampton Town mailing address, that alone would not end the excessive fares and too-frequent problems with how taxis operate.
At the July meeting of the Montauk Citizens Advisory Committee, one of several that provide a conduit to the town board for ideas and citizens’ complaints, taxis were a hot topic. Montauk business owners have noted with displeasure that cabs often take up what otherwise would be customers’ parking spots during rest times or between fares. There being little that police can do about it, some shopkeepers have taken to shooing cabbies away on their own, a confrontation-causer if we ever heard one.
Others have tried to bring attention to the late-night taxi scrums outside such places as Ruschmeyer’s and the Surf Lodge in Montauk, the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett, at the ocean beaches during the daytime on weekends, and last, but perhaps most dangerous, for passing motorists in the early evening outside of Cyril’s Fish House on Napeague. Even in East Hampton Village, the de facto taxi stand near the Main Street bus stop at the Huntting Inn is an annoyance and increases the risk of accidents as other drivers stop in the eastbound traffic lane while waiting for the Jitney to arrive.
The reason so many local drivers and those from elsewhere are on the roads here during the summer season is the money — it’s good, and there is a whole lot of it in an essentially unregulated industry. Fares can run $80 to $100 for a run from Montauk to Springs or Sag Harbor to East Hampton, we have heard, much more than seems fair. One knock on out-of-town drivers is that they often have little idea where anything is and have to rely on in-car navigation devices to get to almost any location off the main roads. This suggests that their attention to the main task at hand, driving, could be compromised.
Montauk’s citizens committee formed a subgroup to gather more information and make suggestions to the town board. We await their report; the taxi situation is getting out of hand.