This week, the East Hampton Town Board took the first steps toward regulating an industry that we feel has operated under the radar on the East End for far too long — taxicabs.
With more and more taxicab and limousine operators from Nassau County and points west now “squatting” in the Hamptons all summer long hoping to rake in as much cash as possible, this is a situation that is getting out of hand and one that penalizes owners of local cab companies who struggle to survive year round out here.
But who can blame these interlopers? With no regulations on the books, there’s virtually nothing to stop up-island drivers from picking up fares all over the East End — and they do. The converse, by the way, is not true and it’s illegal for East End limos to deliver fares to locations in Nassau County, where a county Taxi and Limousine Commission license is required.
While Suffolk County is looking to do the same by creating its own TLC in the near future, what the East Hampton Town Board is focused on is legislation to limit the number of taxicab operators in the town.
One way they would do that is through licensing to ensure cab owners are operating from a permanent physical address — be it a home or a business — in East Hampton (as opposed to a hotel room in Hampton Bays). The town is also looking to ensure the safety of cabs through regular vehicle inspections, and at last week’s town board meeting, one cab operator suggested adding driver screenings for criminal and sex offenses to the regulations as well, as he noted cab drivers are sometimes hired to carry solo passengers as young as 10.
We think these are all very good ideas — not only because these measures would protect our local cab and limousine businesses from outside interests, but because they would ensure the safety of the vehicles and the passengers who rely on them.
But there’s another part of the cab equation which we have yet to see addressed — either in this legislation or any other proposal — and that is fare regulation.
Taxi fares on the East End are not posted, and there’s no consumer information available on how fares are set. So while a fare of $20 to $25 seems to be the going rate for a five-mile cab ride from Sag Harbor to Bridgehampton, the question remains, is that fair? Is that for one passenger or three? The amount itself seems fairly arbitrary and for many working people, it’s excessive — especially given the fact that, unlike the city, alternative transportation options are not an option at all.
As a side note, we’ve also heard horror stories of passengers being charged obscene amounts of money for cab rides, or quoted one fare upon entering the cab only to be told the amount would be higher once the trip was underway. We imagine the potential for abuse is highest in summer when cabs are called after a night of partying — which is when people should be taking cabs, and not getting gouged for doing so.
In short, we applaud East Hampton Town for looking into changing the way cabs and limos do business on the East End and encourage other East End towns to do likewise. We hope that any new legislation will realize its goal of protecting the year round business owners who rely on fares to survive.
But we also want to see serious and meaningful discussion on the standardization of East End cab fares. Whether this is something that is under the purview of the town, county or state we can’t say. But one thing’s for certain, knowing what to expect when getting into the back of a cab both financially and professionally will go a long way towards easing our mind.