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Mandatory drug tests, background checks of Suffolk taxi and limo drivers starting Monday

Pedestrians negotiate a fare with a taxi driver

Pedestrians negotiate a fare with a taxi driver on Main Street in Montauk on July 18, 2015. Credit: Doug Kuntz

Suffolk taxi and limo drivers, including those with Uber and other ride-sharing companies, will have to get drug-tested and go through background checks beginning Monday, Suffolk officials said.

A new law, passed unanimously last year by the county legislature, requires owners of cars to pay $300 to register with the county Taxi & Limousine Commission, and then $250 a year for renewal. Drivers will also have to pay $50 a year for a "for-hire" license.

"We'll be up and running on Monday and accepting registrations," said Frank Nardelli, commissioner of the Suffolk Department of Labor, Licensing and Consumer Affairs. Enforcement likely will consist of warnings initially.

Nardelli said drivers for Uber and other ride-sharing companies will have to follow the same rules as traditional taxi companies.

"We welcome Uber to the county and are looking forward to a working relationship with them," Nardelli said.

An Uber spokesman said the company was still trying to set up a meeting with the county to discuss the issue.

"We would hope the county wouldn't try to deprive riders of safe and reliable options like Uber, especially before even meeting with us to learn how we are already regulated," spokesman Matt Wing said in a statement. Wing would not say what the company was advising its drivers.

Uber drivers already go through a background check conducted by New York City, Wing said. He said Uber planned to meet with the county "to try and ensure regulations that are fair, not redundant, so our service can continue to operate in Suffolk County."

Nardelli said the TLC has had several telephone conversations with the company and is working to schedule a meeting.

Ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft have disrupted the traditional taxi and limousine markets, sparking regulation battles in New York City and East Hampton.

Chris Carson, project coordinator for the Suffolk Taxi & Limousine Commission, said one or two investigators will be involved in enforcement at any given time, with up to seven available as needed.

The county law carries civil penalties of as much as $1,500 for a first-time offense. Repeat offenders could be subject to misdemeanor fines with a $5,000 maximum or imprisonment of as much as a year.

The Nassau County Taxi & Limousine Commission already subjects drivers to criminal-background checks and drug-testing, a county spokesman said.

The new Suffolk regulation costs are likely to be passed on to consumers through higher charges, said Taxi & Limousine Commission member Robert Cunningham, president of the Long Island Limousine Commission and owner of Platinum Limousine, based in Stony Brook.

"It definitely will impact rates," he said. But he called it a safety issue. "You want to make sure some maniac is not behind the wheel," he said.

Seven of the eight members of the county's Taxi & Limousine Commission have been appointed from the traditional industries. The last appointee, designated to represent consumers, has not been named yet by County Executive Steve Bellone.

Taxi companies licensed by a Suffolk town or village do not have to register with Suffolk if they operate solely within that village or town. Nardelli said that an additional board member could be added by the legislature to represent Uber drivers.


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