Tag Archive | "Ed Romaine"

Regulating Limos. Taxis Next?

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web_LIRR July 4th Holiday East Hampton Passengers_7164

By David McCabe

The way some limousine owners on the East End describe it, they are at war for the very survival of their business, facing down operators from outside the area and strict licensing rules from other counties.

Now, however, county officials say they are preparing to create a Suffolk County Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) which could make life a little easier for those limo operators and have an effect on East End consumers as well. New regulations may also pave the way for regulating taxi service on the East End.

County Legislator Ed Romaine, who helped to craft the county’s request to the State Senate and Assembly for the authority, said that in addition to protecting businesses, the Suffolk TLC will raise revenue for the county from the sale of limousine medallions.

“We could issue medallions, make additional revenue for the county, and protect these guys’ businesses,” he said

Romaine, who represents the North Fork, said he decided to pursue the creation of the commission because limo drivers from his district who were dropping off clients in New York City were having their vehicles impounded when they tried to take fares back. Because these limo drivers lacked either licenses from the New York City TLC or a Commission that has a reciprocity agreement with the New York TLC, they could not legally pick up clients in New York City.

He is hoping that Suffolk County’s TLC, which is going to be run through the Consumer Affairs Bureau, can reach a reciprocity agreement with surrounding counties that make it possible for Suffolk County’s limousines to drop off their customers almost anywhere between Montauk and Manhattan.

The more pressing concern, limo owners say, is that they cannot make drop offs in Nassau County without a TLC license from that county. Companies based outside of Nassau County must pay between $300 and $350 to obtain a Nassau license, according to Rizzo Assouad, the owner of Twin Forks Limousine, which is based in East Hampton and Southampton.

“If the kids in Sag Harbor want to go to a prom or a concert in Nassau, I can’t take them,” Assouad said. “That’s not fair.”

Suffolk County’s lack of a TLC, owners say, makes it possible for anyone to operate a limousine business without paying attention to safety precautions. Because many of these operators come from outside the county, Assouad said, there is no way for the consumer to file a complaint about poor service or safety concerns.

“Right now in Suffolk County it’s a free for all,” he said.

State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, who helped shepherd the request through the State legislature, said that the additional regulations placed on the limousine operators could reduce costs for consumers because limo owners will not have to buy expensive Nassau county licenses, reducing overhead for some companies.

Some limousine owners are less bullish on the idea of a TLC, saying buying the medallions will add to their overhead and not provide them with much in return.

“It’s just a government regulation that is requiring more fees,” said Thomas Hill, owner and founder of East End Limousine in Bridgehampton.

Hill is no stranger to the perils of operating without a TLC license: a few years ago, one of his cars was impounded upon making a drop off in Nassau County. Hill said he was unaware of the licensing requirements at the time.

“We just have to adhere to change, and get used to it,” he said. “It’s one of those things you just have to adapt to.”

Visitors to the East End might also reap benefits from the TLC in the form of more tightly regulated taxis. Currently, taxi companies on the East End are not required to submit to regular safety inspections or certain fare schedules.

The Express called three taxi companies on Friday, asking how much it would cost for one person to go from The American Hotel on Main St. to the train station in Bridgehampton at 1:30 in the afternoon. Sag Harbor Taxi wanted $20, Midway wanted $25 and Sag Harbor Car service fell in the middle, asking for $21.

However, Romaine said that he wants to tackle the limousine regulations first, and then deal with the much larger taxi industry.

“We are going to crawl before we walk,” he said, before noting that he wanted to help reduce taxi costs for his constituents that use them regularly.

“I know a number of my constituents are elderly and can’t drive and a number of my constituents who are poor rely on taxis,” he said.

County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, who represents the South Fork, said he would like to see taxi regulation in the near future — expressing concerns that residents who rely on public transportation can run into trouble when buses stop running at night.

“People get stranded, they have no choice [but to take cabs],” he said.

“I certainly want to work with the companies to come up with a fare schedule — I don’t want to put them out of business — but I think there is some regulation that’s overdue there.

Transit Dilemma

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by Karl Grossman

The East End of Long Island and public transportation—unlike love and marriage—don’t go together. It need not be that way. Indeed, a lesson through the years here: when public transportation is provided, riders will come.

Travel on the East End is auto-based. And there’s been mounting congestion as a result, particularly during the vacation season. This July 4th weekend featured bumper-to-bumper traffic on several area roadways, notably Route 27 between Southampton and Amagansett.

Meanwhile, on the same weekend there was a breakthrough in public transportation here: long-desired Sunday and holiday bus service. Rolling in a “pilot” program was the main East End county bus, the S-92. It winds from Orient Point along the North Fork to Greenport and then Riverhead, south through Flanders to Hampton Bays, then east to Southampton Village, Water Mill, Bridgehampton and north to Sag Harbor. Then it travels south again to East Hampton, hooking up with the 10C that goes between East Hampton and Montauk which also began Sunday and holiday service.

This took seven years of hard politicking by Suffolk County Legislators Jay Schneiderman and Ed Romaine. Mr. Schneiderman represents the Towns of Southampton and East Hampton and Mr. Romaine’s district includes Shelter Island, Riverhead and Southold Towns..

“It’s off to a good start,” says Mr. Schneiderman of the service expansion to seven days a week. The S-92 has the highest Saturday ridership in the county. A $1.50 regular fare, in place for almost 20 years on all Suffolk buses, has been increased to $2 on the two lines to help pay for the new service. Other fares—including 50 cents for senior citizens—remain the same.

“It’s another step forward,” commented State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. of Sag Harbor, a champion of a broad public transportation initiative—a coordinated shuttle train and bus network—that has been sought for the East End.

Mr. Thiele said funding for the “small diesel engines” that would pull the trains has now been included in the state’s capital budget for 2013. “I’m optimistic,” he says. These shuttle trains would use the tracks of the Long Island Rail Road and the goal, explains Mr. Thiele, is to have them operated by an East End Transportation Authority,  similar to the Cape Cod Regional Transportation Authority.  

There was a change of emphasis by the Long Island Rail Road when it was taken over in 1966 by what was then called the Metropolitan Commuter Transportation Authority (now Metropolitan Transportation Authority). The LIRR’s main focus became commuter service in and out of Manhattan for what in the post World War II years became a vast bedroom community for the city on western Long Island.  LIRR service on the East End has been very limited. East Enders pay over $100 million annually to the MTA—through the sales tax, parts of mortgage recording and telephone taxes and now a major payroll tax—getting very little in return.

Jim Davidson demonstrated in the following decade that when public transportation is offered here, it will attract riders. Mr. Davidson in 1974 created the Hampton Jitney—which has become an amazing East End public transportation success story.

A former advertising art director, Jim started with two vans pulling trailers, ferrying people and their bicycles to and from beaches and other points between Amagansett and Southampton. Hampton Jitney’s service now involves 49 buses transporting folks dependably and in comfort from both the North and South Forks to and from the city. The Hampton Jitney is doing what the LIRR or MTA could have easily organized—and made money doing.  In fact, the LIRR fought the Hampton Jitney as it sought a state license for its Manhattan service.

Another example of people using public transportation on the East End when it is offered came in 2007 and 2008 with the widening of County Road 39 in Southampton. The LIRR operated a shuttle train service between Speonk and East Hampton. It was too bad that when the construction ended, the service was stopped.

Nationally, a battle is underway to get Congress to provide adequately for public transportation—which “protects our environment” by cutting carbon emissions, “reduces our dependence on foreign oil….creates jobs” and “enhances our quality of life,” says the American Public Transportation Association on its website www.publictransportation. “While Americans struggle with rising gas prices and a sluggish economy, America needs public transportation more than ever.”  That’s especially true of Long Island’s East End.

Quieter Copters

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By Karl Grossman

A few weeks ago, after another weekend of raucous noise from the helicopters ferrying people between the Hamptons and Manhattan, I heard a guest on National Public Radio talking about how helicopters can, in fact, run quietly.

What’s that? The conventional thinking is that choppers are noisy, period, and the only relief for folks on the ground is their flying much higher or out over the water.

But James R. Chiles, interviewed on his book on the history of helicopters, was talking about a helicopter called the “Quiet One.” As he described it in his book—which I quickly obtained—“probably the quietest turbine helicopter ever fielded was the limited edition Hughes 500P, dubbed the Quiet One” used by the CIA “for a secret mission to wiretap North Vietnamese telephone lines in 1972.”

 “How quiet was the 500P?” he asks in the book. The “average person would not hear the Quiet One when it was 500 feet above his neighborhood.”

If only the helicopter industry, I thought, would be subjected to the same kind of pressure applied by the federal government to the airplane industry, also because of noise, which resulted in a new generation of much quieter jet aircraft. Or maybe helicopter manufacturers could produce quiet helicopters voluntarily.

Mr. Chiles writes about the “Quiet One” not only his book, The God Machine, From Boomerangs to Black Hawks: The Story of the Helicopter, but in a March 2008 article in the Smithsonian Institution’s Air & Space Magazine (available on-line) in which he provides even more detail.

He begins noting—as folks on eastern Long Island are quite familiar because of the Hamptons choppers—how “a helicopter is a one-man band, its turbine exhaust blaring a piercing whine, the fuselage skin’s vibration rumbling like a drum, the tail rotor rasping like a buzzsaw.”

But then there was the “Quiet One.” He quotes “Don Stephens, who managed the Quiet One’s secret base in Laos for the CIA” as saying, “It was absolutely amazing just how quiet these copters were. I’d stand on the [landing pad] and try to figure out the first time I could hear it and which direction it was coming from. I couldn’t place it until it was one or two hundred yards away.” And he also quotes “Rod Taylor, who served as project engineer for Hughes, [saying] ‘There is no helicopter today that is as quiet.’” That’s an understatement.

Mr. Chiles explains: “The slapping noise that some helicopters produce, which can be heard two miles away or more, is caused by ‘blade vortex interaction,’ in which the tip of each whirling rotor blade makes tiny tornadoes that are then struck by oncoming blades. The Quiet One’s modifications included an extra main rotor blade, changes to the tips on the main blades, and engine adjustments that allowed the pilot to slow the main rotor speed, making the blades quieter.”

He writes that the “idea of using hushed helicopters in Southeast Asia came from the CIA’s Special Operations Division Air Branch, which wanted them to quietly drop off and pick up agents in enemy territory.”

By the time the quiet choppers were ready, the Vietnam War was nearly over and their only mission involved dropping commandos to place taps on the North Vietnam phone lines. Then, after the war, “no more were built.” And the near-silent chopper “remained a secret for more than two decades,” until a 1995 book, Shadow War.

A reader of Mr. Chiles’ on-line Air & Space Magazine article asks: “why” doesn’t the helicopter industry make “less noisy helicopters now” as long as “the technology exists?” That is an important question not just to us on eastern Long Island but to others around the nation besieged by helicopter noise (another focus in the Chiles’ book.)

I called the offices of some of the public officials—Congressman Tim Bishop, Suffolk County Legislator Edward Romaine, Senator Chuck Schumer—involved in trying to do something about the Hamptons helicopter racket. Their staffers, like I had been, were not familiar with the technology mastered decades ago of producing extremely quiet helicopters.

If only now the helicopter industry could do it again.