Taxis Still Run Amok

Complaints continue in spite of new town rules
T.E. McMorrow

Some Montauk residents are feeling the sting of swarms of taxis buzzing about the hamlet’s trendy night spots, where, they say, the cabs are creating unpleasant conditions.

The Montauk Citizens Advisory Committee on Monday heard numerous gripes from its members, who reported seeing taxis speeding, parking illegally, dropping people off in roadways without pulling over to the curb, and, as one person put it, “trying to grab people” as they came out of places like the Surf Lodge.

It’s a complaint that East Hampton Town Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc, the committee’s town board liaison, said the town is taking seriously. However, he said, creating the kind of taxi commission that some residents think would solve the problem — like the one New York City has, but on a much smaller scale — is too expensive, at a cost of around $1 million.

The East Hampton Town Code requires all cab companies to register with the town using a local business address within East Hampton, and all taxis must have a town permit sticker. Drivers must be fingerprinted by the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. According to Carole Brennan, the East Hampton Town clerk, there are 33 cab companies registered in the town that collectively operate 281 vehicles.

“There’s no question that taxis continue to be one of the biggest complaints in Montauk, and really the biggest complaint about Memorial Day weekend if there was any complaint,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said Monday. “I don’t know if a number of those are unlicensed taxi owners who are coming here trying to make a quick buck.”

The actual number of licensed taxicabs in East Hampton “may be down a little” over the last few years, according to Ms. Brennan. In the past, she said, taxi licenses were for two years, local business addresses were not required, and Uber had not become a major issue yet, so as many as 800 cabs had operated in the town at one time.

Some at Monday’s Montauk C.A.C. meeting suggested potential fixes.

“I’m wondering about the responsibility of the businesses who are lucky enough to generate enough business to fill the Nassau Coliseum,” Joan Palumbo said. “They should get themselves a couple of Jitneys and bring their people places.”

Raymond Cortell suggested the town require the cab companies to set up a unified dispatch system in which they would use the Kirk Park parking lot, which empties at night, as a place to line up and wait their turn to be sent out to pick up fares.

“We stop the cruising. We keep it under control,” he said. “We can’t keep talking about this every single year.”

Mr. Van Scoyoc replied, however, that Mr. Cortell’s idea “would have to be a voluntary system among those businesses.

It was also suggested the shuttle-bus Hampton Hopper be tapped for services in Montauk, and that the town be asked to provide funding for it.

But the cab problem is a symptom of what the Montauk C.A.C. says is a larger issue it is trying to address: A lack of comprehensive public transportation options, seven days per week, that the hamlet so desperately needs.

“Taxis did not come from nowhere,” said Arden Gardell, a committee member who manages 668 the Gig Shack. “They were a solution. They are the reality of a town that had issues with drinking and driving . . . but still retained the need for people to get around. It has morphed into a new problem.”

The town and the Police Department are considering setting up two taxi stands, one near the Sloppy Tuna and another at the north end of Carl Fisher Plaza, with the goal of creating safer places to catch a cab. East Hampton Town Police Chief Michael Sarlo said in an email that “the town as a whole feels a difficulty in striking a balance in the need for transportation, with a huge increase in traffic volume at night on the weekends.”

“Of course taxis help keep drunk drivers off the roads and serve a very valuable service to the community,” Chief Sarlo said. “However, given the extremely large number of people out and about in Montauk in the summer, all looking to go from one bar or restaurant to the next, the volume of taxis jockeying for fares, trying to pick up and drop off as quickly as possible — quite often in the lane of travel or at an intersection, blocking a crosswalk, or making U-turns across traffic in congested areas — has led to some hazardous conditions. We need to continue to address violators with enforcement and improve the behavior of the drivers as much as possible.”

Also on Monday, Laraine Creegan, the executive director of the Montauk Chamber of Commerce, announced that the chamber would be releasing a survey to business owners about their need for housing for seasonal workers. The eight-question survey was distributed yesterday via email and is aimed at helping the town board, citizens committee, and consultants working on a townwide hamlet study “accurately understand the magnitude of this issue.”

More information can be obtained by contacting the Montauk Chamber at info@montaukchamber.com or 631-668-2428.