East Hampton: We’ve Got Uber Handled

 

luxuryparkEast Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell sent correspondence to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo yesterday asking him to rethink the proposed statewide legislation involving the livery service industry, including ride-sharing services such as Uber. It’s one heck of a fine letter. Read it here for yourself.

Dear Governor Cuomo:

It has come to my attention that you are considering legislative amendments through the budget process that would provide a statewide franchise, or license, for the livery service industry, including ride-sharing apps like Uber. It is my understanding that such legislative action would be specifically designed so as to preempt local regulation of these services.

As the Supervisor of the Town of East Hampton, I would like to make you aware of our recent history with the vehicle-for-hire industry, including livery services like Uber, and how profoundly they impact our community. Additionally, I would like to offer alternative suggestions as to requirements and provisions to include in any legislation so as to augment local communities’ abilities to deal with the transportation-for-hire industry.

When I took office a little more than two years ago, there were nearly 1 , 100 licensed vehicles for hire (including taxi and livery) belonging to more than 89 companies in the Town of East Hampton. Our public safety resources—already stretched to the limits due to the massive influx of seasonal residents and tourist visitors—were being overwhelmed by the questionable tactics and actions of these vehicles for hire and their operators. These vehicles for hire were congesting roadways, taking up huge percentages of the limited parking areas in our hamlet centers, and causing disruption at our public transportation hubs as the drivers literally fought over fares. Complaints about drivers sleeping in their vehicles all day between night shifts, fare gouging, passenger stranding, and driver assaults (of one other and passengers alike) were commonplace.

In order to combat these untenable conditions, the Town instituted a number of legislative reforms in the first six months of my term in an effort to improve and professionalize industry operation within the Town. These reforms required companies to maintain an office within the Town for the purposes of having an accessible lost-and-found, having a physical presence to make complaints, and to prevent drivers and companies from using inappropriate properties, such as single-family residences and public spaces, as depots and offices. In addition, we required that all cars being used as vehicles for hire be registered to their respective vehicle-for-hire businesses to prevent fraud and abuse, which was resulting in numerous inquiries from the State’s Department of Motor Vehicle investigators to our Town Clerk’s office.

These changes have been very successful—lauded by the local business community and the vast majority of the local vehicle-for-hire companies. While there are still significant issues with parking and traffic congestion during the summer season, as well as complaints of fare gouging and the unregulated nature of the fares charged, the fever pitch of complaints has subsided as companies and drivers have responded positively, improving conditions for everyone.

Unfortunately, as has been widely repotted, some vehicle-for-hire companies, such as Uber’s driving partners, violated and refused to comply with these local regulations. Not wanting to register their vehicles in the licensed companies’ names, establish a local office for the businesses and pay associated Town licensing fees, these entities decided to withdraw from operating in the Town and to commence a public relations effort and lobbying campaign for the preemption legislation you are considering.

If the Town were to lose its ability to regulate a large percentage of the vehicle-for-hire industry due to preemption legislation, it would immediately reverse the productive reforms the Town has instituted under my administration. As such, our community cannot support any legislation that would make certain vehicle-for-hire companies, such as livery service vehicles, exempt from local regulation.

A patchwork approach of State regulations of some vehicles and local regulations of others would create an uneven business environment within the Town, confuse consumers and push the Town’s hamlet centers and transportation hubs toward the type of chaos that my administration has spent two years cleaning up. Furthermore, enforcement ofthe patchwork regulations resulting from State preemption would be inherently uneven, with the Town enforcing our local regulations on non-preempted vehicles for hire, and the State regulators and enforcement personnel responsible for those entities preempted from local regulation.

As an alternative to legislation preempting local control of a specific class of vehicles for hire, there are a number of legislative measures involving the vehicle-for-hire industry that our community would welcome. Even if preemption legislation were to move forward over the community’s concerns, inclusion of provisions providing for the following would strengthen any legislation by providing local communities with tools to deal with local concerns not directly related to licensing:

1.) The jurisdiction to prohibit or time limit Livery-, TLC- and Taxi- registered vehicles from parking on certain public streets within the Town in order to prevent these vehicles for hire from monopolizing parking in our business districts, hamlet centers, and transportation hubs.

2.) Establishment of a maximum vehicle-for-hire rate system without the need for extensive actuarial studies or the establishment of a rate setting commission to

prevent price gouging and the charging of unreasonable fares.

3.) An absolute prohibition on drivers of Livery-, TLC- and Taxi- registered

vehicles from sleeping in said vehicles.

4.) Current law allows the Town to regulate only vehicle-for-hire trips that are comprised of travel that begins and ends wholly within the Town. The Town would like the ability to regulate all vehicle-for-hire trips that begin within the Town, regardless of the final destination. This would prevent a significant number of unlicensed vehicle-for-hire operators from operating under the cover that they are only taking fares going outside the municipality.

Whereas statewide preemption legislation of livery services licensing would be a step backward for our community, the above listed reforms would bolster our efforts to provide necessary and vital public transportation services to our constituents in a safe, responsible, and reliable manner.

Thank you for your consideration of these matters. I would welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss this issue in more detail and would invite you to join me in East Hampton to tour some of these conditions first hand on a summer weekend.

Very truly yours,

Larry Cantwell
Supervisor, Town of East Hampton

 

 

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