East Hampton taxi plan back to drawing board

Lawrence Kelly, right, an attorney representing a group

Lawrence Kelly, right, an attorney representing a group of taxi owners, speaks during a public hearing about changes in taxi cab regulations during an East Hampton Town Board meeting in East Hampton Thursday night. (Jan. 17, 2013) (Credit: Gordon M. Grant)

Travel deals

East Hampton's town board wanted to protect local taxi owners from out-of-towners, who skim much of their business and generate many complaints about price-gouging.

But local cab owners spent two hours at a public hearing Thursday night complaining a proposed law is unwieldy, covers too many unrelated issues and could force them out of business, even as it fails to fix the problem.

In the end, the town board unanimously agreed and decided to rewrite its law, rather than try to fix it. "It's back to the drawing board," said Councilman Dominick Stanzione.

Town officials drafted the 10-page bill to ensure the health, safety and welfare of town residents and visitors, and to deal with alleged "price gouging, fraud and inferior services," the legislation read.

Those goals expanded as the proposal was reviewed.

The proposed law would have required owners to insure their vehicles at a higher level than state law requires and post a sign inside them listing fares. It also would have mandated that all drivers be fingerprinted, report if they had been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor, report if they had been indicted as a level two or three sex offender, keep their cabs clean and safe, and not use vehicles that were more than 10 years old or had more than 250,000 miles.

"It's unfair," said Ted Kopoulos, owner of East West Taxi of East Hampton. "I've been in business three years, and I've never hurt anyone and no one has complained."

While it did not set prices for cab trips, the proposed law required that all cab companies have a physical office in town.

Several cab operators said they can easily log 40,000 miles a year, and that if the car body is in good shape, it is much less expensive to put in a new engine than to replace the vehicle.

Others said out-of-town companies would simply rent out space so eight or 10 firms can say they have a local office.

Lawrence Kelly, an attorney for two local cab companies, cautioned the town board that Suffolk County is looking into drafting its own cab regulations to deal with the problems that local taxi and limousine firms have with being able to pick up passengers in some areas of Nassau, and at airports and other facilities in New York City.

Some cab operators also complained that they are ticketed by town police when they are standing and waiting to pick up customers who come off the Hampton Jitney or at train stations or busy local night spots.

They urged more off-road standing or parking spaces.

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