Many people, especially urban users of ride hailing services, prefer summoning Uber or Lyft on their smartphones instead of calling for a taxi. Following a state budget deal, Uber and its competitors will pick up passengers legally in East Hampton Town, as well as upstate, where they had been unable to operate because of legal and insurance requirements. Expect traffic around the South Fork’s hot spots to get a lot worse this summer.
East Hampton’s rule that all for-hire vehicle companies have places of business within town limits is now likely to fall by the wayside. The regulation was never going to stand up anyway — it is difficult to imagine that a court would agree to give locals a total monopoly on a specific kind of economic activity, which is in part conducted on state and county roads. Now, because of the state deal, the tougher problem of what to do about the congestion that Uber and other companies will cause becomes harder to deal with.
At bottom, the problem is not the car services, but the people who use them. East Hampton Town has more than its share of overcrowded drinking establishments, and until they are brought in line or eliminated, people will want to get to them. Uber and the like are not the villains here. Instead, they are the end result of successive Town Hall administrations unable, or unwilling, to turn the party train around.
We know ride-hailing services are popular, and for a reason. They are prompt and can offer superior service, driver courtesy, and vehicle cleanliness. Though Uber in particular has been criticized for fare spiking, through something it calls surge pricing, its upcharges have been significantly less outrageous than the late-night gouging reported by users of some traditional taxis here.
When you think about it, both the ride-hailing services and East Hampton Town’s taxi regulations have had the same goal: safe rides at reasonable cost. Since it cannot fight Albany on this, the town is seeking ways to minimize the expected influx of vehicles and drivers from away. This is bound to fail.
The solution will have to come from reducing demand. Possibilities for this include stricter noise and capacity controls on once-modest restaurants that now serve hundreds of customers from afternoon to late night on a single day. Until the town comes up with tighter regulations, patrons will continue to flock to these places, whether in an Uber or Lyft car, taxi, or by another method