Ask for More Enforcement

Cabbies in the audience at a Montauk Citizens Advisory Committee meeting listened closely as the group discussed new town taxi legislation. Janis Hewitt

       East Hampton Town officials have come up with proposed new legislation designed to tighten restrictions on taxis and prevent out-of-town companies from making a quick buck during the 8 to 12 weeks of summer. Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc, the East Hampton Town board liaison to the Montauk Citizens Advisory Committee, went over a draft of the legislation at a meeting of the committee on Monday. He warned, however, that it wasn’t simple to limit business in New York State. “We have very few tools to limit commerce,” he said.

       A loud call for tighter controls came from residents and local cab company owners, who complained of everything from gouging prices and not posting fares to attacking and cutting in front of other drivers, and general reckless behavior.

       Last summer, the town board created a task force to come up with recommendations for tightening the taxi law. It included town officials, Larraine Creegan, the executive director of the Montauk Chamber of Commerce, Diane Hausman, chair of the advisory committee,  and James Hewitt, the owner of the Shagwong Tavern.

       The proposed new law would require annual applications for cabs; the permits now run for two years. It would  require proof of year-round residency, although owners would not have to run their businesses from home. It would also require background checks and fingerprinting.

Even if the new rules are enacted in time for this summer, Mr. Van Scoyoc said, some permits issued last year will be valid through the end of 2014. But, he said, “We’re going to hit early, hit hard, hit on big weekends, and hit on a day-to-day basis.”

       Some 20 local cab company owners and drivers attended the meeting Monday. Although they praised the town for trying to do something about the problem, they weren’t pleased about the possibility that the taxi license fee might increase from  $200 to $750, which is commensurate with the fee in Southampton.

       But others said restrictions weren’t enough. They suggested higher fines and more enforcement. It was suggested that larger permit stickers should be required on cabs, and even suggested that plainclothes police officers act as would-be taxi customers so they could issue summonses if violations were found.

       Lieut. Chris Hatch of the East Hampton Town Police Department, who is also the Montauk precinct commander, said the department was already planning stings and considering other ways to improve enforcement. “We’re trying to get as creative as we can with what we have,” he said.

       If the town were to charge higher permit fees, several at the meeting suggested using the money in a dedicated fund to hire more police officers, even part-timers. Steve Kalimnios of the Royal Atlantic Motels in the downtown area said he hires off-duty officers on Friday and Saturday nights to patrol his sites.“The local guys are getting killed. This town needs to step up, unlock the money and provide public safety,” he said.