For four years, commuters getting off the train at Long Beach have had a choice: Go left for a cab from Long Beach Taxi, or right for one from Beech Street Taxi.
But Long Beach Taxi recently started occupying both sides of the Long Island Rail Road station, inflaming a long-standing dispute.
Beech Street Taxi owner Thomas Cipolla said his competitor broke a 4-year-old agreement keeping the companies on separate sides. "There was no notice to the company," Cipolla said. "No one said, 'As of this day, both sides of the LIRR are open for both companies.' "
Cipolla said the dispute started when he opened Beech Street Taxi in 2008 and the city sold him eight licenses, or "medallions," to operate his fleet. The licenses previously had been issued to Long Beach Taxi owner John Marsala, who sued the city to get them back, naming Beech Street Taxi as a beneficiary. The case is pending.
Tensions quickly escalated. Former City Manager Charles Theofan brokered the train station truce, Cipolla said.
"For four years my cars have been parked at one side," he said.
But on Feb. 17, he said, cabs from Long Beach Taxi started pulling into the west side of the station, blocking out his drivers.
The west side is public property, and Long Beach Taxi leases the east side, said Marsala's attorney, Michael Zapson of Garden City, who said he was unaware of a prior agreement.
Republican City Councilman John McLaughlin confirmed the verbal pact, but noted the former administration left office on Dec. 31. "I think after the election, all bets are off," he said.
In the last few weeks, angry disputes between drivers have led to police reports filed by each company's personnel.
"It's been very stressful," said Beech Street Taxi driver Jerry Haas, who said he's losing $20 to $30 per night in fares from the train station. "They've been jumping in line here, creating a hostile situation with us."
In a heated speech at Tuesday's council meeting, Cipolla asked why his medallions -- the city charter caps them at 50, with some held in reserve -- were recently renewed for only two months instead of the customary one year.
"We are awaiting a decision from the Nassau County Supreme Court that will hopefully clarify this entire situation," said Corey Klein, corporation counsel for Long Beach. "In the meantime, the city has instructed that all taxi cabs receive these temporary licenses."
The court could decide to return the medallions to Marsala, Zapson said, which he contended would push Cipolla out of business. Or it could declare the medallions are not Marsala's property "and the city has discretion to do with them as they see fit," Zapson said.
Cipolla, whose business is in receivership, said Long Beach Taxi is continuing to work both sides of the train station. "We're losing more money every day," he said. "How am I going to keep my drivers? How am I going to conduct business this way?"