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Long Island taxi companies sue to stop ride-sharing

Taxi drivers wait to make pickups at the

Taxi drivers wait to make pickups at the Hicksville LIRR station Friday evening, June 30, 2017. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Nassau and Suffolk taxicab owners have filed suit in federal court to halt the state’s new ride-sharing law, arguing that they must comply with local regulations that make it “impossible to economically compete” against companies such as Uber and Lyft, which are exempt from those rules.

Nassau Suffolk Taxi Owners Association Inc. and seven member companies filed suit against the state in Central Islip Tuesday. They are seeking an order declaring the law, which went into effect Thursday, violates the Equal Protection clause under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The lawsuit argues that traditional “for hire” taxi companies provide identical services to Uber and Lyft. But the law exempts those “Transportation Network Companies” from the “onerous burdens” imposed on the taxi industry, such as county fees, mandatory background and drug tests and insurance and vehicle maintenance requirements.

“Taxi owners, who are required to comply with countless local statutes and ordinances, cannot financially compete with TNCs operating under less stringent, more flexible TNC rules,” the suit states.

Long Island taxi drivers must undergo state-approved fingerprint and background checks, a state Department of Health drug test and defensive driving courses. The new state law allows ride-sharing companies to conduct their own background checks and issue permits stating that applicants are allowed to drive for the services.

Under the new law, the state Department of Motor Vehicles will oversee licensing, insurance and inspection requirements for all ride hailing outside New York City.

Uber and Lyft have said their drivers’ vehicles undergo safety inspections and drivers must submit to detailed criminal background checks. They also say the new law’s insurance requirements are in some cases more stringent than those in place for taxis in Nassau.

Larry Blessinger, president of the Nassau Suffolk Taxi Owners Association Inc., and his Bay Shore attorney, Karen Svendsen, did not respond to requests for comment about the suit Friday.

Uber, Lyft and spokesmen for Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, a ride sharing supporter, declined to comment. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

Similar “Equal Protection” lawsuits have been filed by taxi cab associations across the nation. Last year, for instance, a U.S. Court of Appeals in Illinois rejected a suit by Chicago’s taxi and livery trade association, saying there are “enough differences between taxi service and [ride sharing companies] to justify different regulatory schemes.”

Nassau’s Taxi & Limousine Commission has recommended that the county opt out of the state law and move to regulate the industry. The panel wants the county to drug test and fingerprint drivers and charge them licensing fees, as it does with traditional for-hire vehicles.

Uber and Lyft have threatened to pull their services from the county if Mangano follows the recommendation.

Mangano and the GOP-controlled county legislature have said there is no agreement on whether the county will eventually opt out of the law, which it can do at any time.

TLC Commissioner Gregory May said his enforcement officers issued 16 tickets Thursday during the first day of ride-sharing operations.

Two violations were issued to city-registered vehicles making local pickups and 14 to state licensed ride-sharing vehicles that failed to properly display, or did not have, a new sticker mandated by the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

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