Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano before he is sworn into...

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano before he is sworn into office for his second term by Supreme Court Justice Thomas Feinman at Bethpage High School in Bethpage on Jan. 2, 2014. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano is moving to more aggressively regulate the quickly evolving local taxicab and car service industries.

The county legislature will vote this month on Mangano's plan to establish the Taxi & Limousine Commission as a stand-alone department, removing the function from an understaffed consumer affairs office.

The administration is planning to have 10 workers in the new department, compared with the two or three employees who now handle registrations for all livery vehicles and drivers.

Officials said they acted after reports of a "proliferation" of unlicensed for-hire cars operating throughout the county -- the long-standing illegally operating cabs that pick up fares outside regulated zones, and newer, app-based companies such as Uber and Lyft that connect customers with independent and established drivers alike as well as ride-sharing participants.

"They need to get a grip on it," Peter Blasucci, who runs the 350-car Delux Transportation in Port Washington, said of the county. "We license our vehicles, we have offices and we insure them properly. Then these guys come in and create an uneven playing field."

Mangano's chief deputy, Rob Walker, said creating the stand-alone department won't cost anything. Nassau faces a potential budget shortfall of $70 million this year due to lower-than-expected sales tax revenues.

Inspectors would come from the group of employees who now work for the county sewer system, which a private company will soon begin managing.

"There's no budgetary hit to this," Walker said last week.

In a recent report, the county's fiscal control board, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, said the administration claims increased Taxi & Limousine Commission enforcement could raise $2 million a year to help close the shortfall.

But Walker said: "This isn't revenue driven. It's driven purely for commuter safety."

Nassau issues 1,500 registrations, or "medallions," for individual taxis and livery cars each year. In 2013, the county received $306,000 in registration fees and about $100,000 from fines, Walker said.

The county charges $300 for initial registration and $250 annually to renew -- or a $5 renewal if already licensed by a town, city or village in Nassau.

Cars licensed in New York City may pick up or drop off passengers, but the county requires local licensing and registration to go "point to point" within Nassau's borders.

"There's just too many of them out there that aren't licensed at all," Walker said.

Mangano aide Greg May told lawmakers recently the administration also had "concerns" about the newer smartphone-based companies.

"They are not necessarily registered or licensed within a municipality here and we want to be able to regulate those kinds of companies," May said, citing the need for local driver and vehicle safety standards.

Such smartphone companies have clashed with municipal regulators elsewhere, including in New York City, where most have now become licensed.

A spokesman for Uber said Nassau's rule that for-hire cars get town, city or village licenses -- along with county registration -- to go point-to-point was "backwards" and meant to "protect the incumbents."

Chelsea Wilson, a Lyft spokeswoman, said the company has its own internal background checks and insurance standards that are more stringent than most municipalities.

"While safety is often brought up as a reason to apply an old regulatory model to an innovative transportation solution, the truth is that new technology provides an opportunity to increase safety above and beyond what has been done previously," Wilson said.

But Larry Blessinger, vice president of Franklin Square-based All Island Transportation, one of Nassau's larger cab companies, said he supported Mangano's enforcement plan.

"A lot of these places, they're not taxi companies. It's that simple," Blessinger said. "They don't have a local office. They don't have a phone number for you to call. You don't always know what you're getting."

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