Montauk Streets Paved With Gold For Cabbies

$40 ride in N.Y.C. may be $150 here
Some cab drivers choose to sleep in Montauk's public parking lots instead of heading home to points west and returning that night to seek more fares. T.E. McMorrow

For New Yorkers accustomed to tightly regulated yellow taxis, hailing a cab on the South Fork, where a 25-minute late-night trip could set one back upwards of $100, can come as a shock.

On weekends during the summer season, 20-somethings swarm the sidewalks and streets in Montauk. The area between the Point Bar and Grill and the Memory Motel is particularly crowded, with partygoers spilling out of the bars and into the streets, attempting to hail anything that resembles the beat-up minivans that so many cabbies drive.

Taxis rides from Montauk to East Hampton typically cost $100 or more. Many taxi drivers come from out of town, seeking a profitable night’s income they have no hope of realizing elsewhere. Reports are on the increase about drivers sleeping in cabs, apparently intending to stick around for the weekend and depart for points west on Monday morning with hundreds of dollars in cash in their pockets.

For context, a taxi from Battery Park to Washington Heights in Manhattan, which is a 14-mile trip and the same distance as Montauk to East Hampton, might cost $40, depending on traffic. Taxis in New York City do not charge per person, and rates are strictly controlled by the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission.

After complaints from citizens and local cab companies, the East Hampton Town Board recently passed a law that begins to regulate taxicabs and drivers. East Hampton Town’s resident cab owners are upset by what they see as unfair competition that out-of-town drivers with no real base here present. Residents at a recent Montauk Citizens Advisory Committee meeting expressed concerns about safety and cost, saying that some drivers were reckless on the road and that taxis did not post prices.

The new law, which was passed on May 15, requires all cab drivers to be fingerprinted and undergo a background check before they can be issued a taxi license. The law also details how vehicles must be maintained and requires that drivers keep records of all trips. The rates, which vary widely, are still unregulated. A new county taxi commission came into being in June, but so far its purview has not included tamping down on predatory pricing like that seen on the South Fork.

In Montauk, companies commonly charge per person, with the End Cab, Exclusive Taxi, O’Neal’s Taxi, and Bill’s Taxi all charging $20 per person from Montauk to East Hampton. In an informal survey, $20 per person was the rate given for a group of five or more at around 2 a.m., making the total anywhere between $100 and $140.

However, during a different informal survey, when drivers were asked how much a three-person ride would cost, they replied in terms of fixed rates, instead of per person.

For instance, the driver of a K’s Taxi, when asked how much a ride from Montauk to East Hampton Village would be for three people, said $80. He quickly followed with, “But it’s usually more, $100 or $200 because this is a large vehicle.” A driver of a Montauk Transportation Taxi initially quoted $75, then asked for more money.

A John’s Transportation driver refused to give a quote and was uninterested in taking three people as fares. Instead, he walked over to a larger group of people looking to go to East Hampton and asked them if they needed a ride. Both drivers and passengers benefit from riding in large groups — the driver is guaranteed around $100, even without a tip, but the passengers pay less per person than they would alone.

Some local cab companies charge lower rates. Both Lindy’s Taxi and Pink Tuna Taxi charge $60 for a ride from Montauk to East Hampton, no matter what time of night. There is an additional charge per person, but it’s between $4 and $6. East End Taxi charges as little as $50, with a $5 surcharge per additional person.

In July two arguments between passengers and cab drivers became violent. A driver charged $50 to go from the Memory Motel to Lee Court and then to Gilbert Road, all in Montauk, but the passenger, Kempton John Coady, only had $40. Mr. Coady ended up with a black eye and split lip as a result of the fight.

Earlier in the month, Mark A. Rip?olone, the owner of Ditch Plains Taxi, allegedly used a stun gun on a potential passenger, John Bolaris. Mr. Ripolone apparently opted to drive a larger group of four, instead of Mr. Bolaris and his fiancée, despite the fact that the couple had allegedly approached him first. Mr. Ripolone was arrested, and his case is pending.