It may be difficult for the powers-that-be in East Hampton Town Hall to recall in the depths of freezing winter the taxi mayhem of the past several high seasons. But time is a-wasting if something is to be done to bring the situation under control by summer. Complicating matters is the fact that meaningful regulation will require inter-government cooperation, including that of Suffolk County.
Because much of the abuse comes from out-of-town cab operators taking advantage of people out for a night of fun, it may be tempting for local officials to give this low priority. That would be wrong. We should treat our visitors as we wish to be treated ourselves, and, as we know, there are those among us who also call cabs from time to time.
Montauk was the center of much of the frustration last summer, with outrageous fares and other transgressions, such as cabbies taking up public parking spaces while sleeping off the preceding night’s rounds. However, the easternmost hamlet was hardly the only place where there was trouble. In one incident, for example, police were called in August to resolve a dispute about a promised $75 ride from Amagansett to Bridgehampton that suddenly doubled in price when the rider was already in the cab.
Triple-digit fares are commonplace here, drawing cabbies like moths to flame to hang around likely spots, such as the Montauk bars. East Hampton Town took a stab at regulating taxis by starting a registry and trying to require that drivers have a local address. This may be better than nothing, but it falls short of protecting riders from unsafe rides and what you might call highway robbery. And since trips often cross town lines, East Hampton’s regulatory authority is by definition limited.
This is where Suffolk, and perhaps the state, may have to step in. One solution might be for lawmakers to create an East End taxi commission of some kind, modeled on New York City’s. A new agency could help set safety and performance standards as well as regulate fares.
Allowing the wild west taxi scene to continue is unacceptable. Reining it in will require leadership and the active involvement of several levels of government. This should begin immediately.