Vote on county regulation of taxi, limo industry in Suffolk

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The Suffolk County Legislature will consider a bill Tuesday that for the first time would allow the county to regulate taxis and limousines.

The measure, which is expected to pass, would create a Suffolk County Taxi and Limousine Commission that would require background checks on all taxi and limousine drivers seeking county licenses and require operators to pass annual drug tests.

Beyond the need for such regulation, bill supporters also cited disputes several years ago between Suffolk limo drivers and Nassau's limousine regulators. Suffolk fares, including prom-goers, could be dropped off in Nassau County and New York City but could not picked up unless drivers and limo companies were licensed in Nassau or New York City, Suffolk officials and limo operators said.

Officials of Nassau's and New York City's taxi and limousine commissions said they'd welcome new regulation in Suffolk allowed under a 2012 state law.

Cabs and limos operated by Suffolk licensees would have reciprocal agreements with those jurisdictions and could pick up fares there by prearrangement but not street fares.

Madalyn F. Farley, Commissioner of the Nassau County Office of Consumer Affairs, said the county has had problems with unregistered and uninsured taxis and limos from Suffolk.

"We look forward to working with Suffolk County to prevent the operation of unregistered and often uninsured vehicles illegally operating for hire," she said in a statement.Robert Cunningham, president of the Long Island Limousine Association and owner of Platinum Limousine in Deer Park, backs the legislation, noting that there are "a lot of uninsured operators in Suffolk County."

Cunningham also conceded that new licensing fees would "drive the price up, without a doubt" for consumers. "But is anything getting cheaper?"

Initial vehicle registration fees will be $300 per car, and then $250 a year for renewal. Drivers also will have to pay $50 a year for a "for-hire" driver's license.

New county revenue would be about $150,000 in 2015, according to a county financial analysis in May. Costs are expected to be $53,000 in 2014 and $113,775 in 2015.

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The commission would be made up of the Suffolk commissioner of Labor, Licensing and Consumer Affairs; a member of the Suffolk County Supervisors Association; two members appointed by the County Executive; a member appointed by the presiding officer and another appointed by the Suffolk County Legislature.

Legis. Robert Calarco (D-Patchogue) said regulating taxi drivers is a public service.

"To a degree, it's a shock that the companies are operating with zero regulation right now," Calarco said.

Some Suffolk towns and villages already regulate taxis, and vehicles in those municipalities would not be subject to the new commission.

Chu said the county will hire two more staff members for the licensing unit to regulate the unknown number of taxis and limos on Long Island.

A separate resolution for a $300,000 software package for the taxi authority, the first part of a planned $2.3 million plan for the department, also passed the government operations committee last week. But Minority Leader Legis. John M. Kennendy Jr. (R-Nesconset) said he opposed the contract because there hasn't been a demonstrated need.

The county has already selected the firm, California-based Accela, after a competitive bidding process, for a $300,000 software package. Awarding the contract is dependent on the legislature appropriating the money, county officials said.

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