By Jano Tantongco
Local taxi drivers are asking Huntington Town Board members to enforce town code and prevent Uber drivers without appropriate licensing from servicing customers within town lines.
Doug Freeman, a manager at Huntington Station-based taxi company Orange & White, presented to the town board on March 7 a total of 60 letters penned by local taxi drivers who allege their livelihoods have been affected by Uber, a smartphone-based app that allows customers to request taxi service from nearby Uber drivers, who use their own cars.
In a March 10 interview, Freeman said Uber drivers have no business in the town since they’re unlicensed.
“They do not have an office in the town. They have no right picking up trips in the town,” he said. Freeman said that if he sees Uber drivers operating at the Huntington Long Island Railroad Station he’ll demand them to leave. “If they give me a hard time, my drivers will back me up.”
A section in Huntington Town Code states that “it shall be unlawful for any person to engage in the business of transportation for hire within the Town of Huntington without first having secured a license from the Town Clerk.”
On Wednesday, town spokesman A.J. Carter said the town has not issued any such licenses to Uber drivers. He said that there is a total of eight licensed taxicab and vehicles-for-hire businesses in town, five of which do business as “Orange & White.” Carter said there are approximately 144 drivers with permits to drive in the town and 66 vehicles that are approved, he said.
Additionally, code requires owners of companies offering taxicabs or vehicles for hire “must maintain a business office within the Town of Huntington.”
It costs $150 for a business owner’s license from the town, plus $50 for each motor vehicle and $50 for a vehicle operator’s permit.
Failure to adhere to the code can be grounds for a fine and/or imprisonment.
Carter said that the town board is still in the “information gathering phase,” in terms of how to proceed with the apparent situation.
Karen Svendsen, a Bay Shore-based attorney who has represented Orange & White for 15 years, said Wednesday said her client does not necessarily want to kick Uber drivers out, but it does not want Uber to have an “unfair competitive advantage.” She said Uber drivers are most prominent in Huntington village on “prime” nights, Thursday through Saturday.
“We’re asking for the town to simply enforce the code as they wrote it,” Svendsen said. “We are required very diligently to maintain our licenses”
In an email on Monday, Alix Anfang, an Uber spokeswoman in New York, stated, "There is an unquestionable need and demand for Uber on Long Island because taxi service has been historically unreliable.”
Anfang claimed that “Uber driver-partners have insurance coverage up to 4x that of Huntington taxis."
Despite repeated attempts to contact her on Wednesday, Anfang did not comment on these sections of the town code before deadline.
Freeman refuted that claim, “They’re not licensed and they don’t have insurance,” he said.
Dominic Banks, a driver with Orange & White for two years, was one of the drivers who wrote to the town board. Banks possesses a commercial driver's license and said he has previously worked as a bus driver for Huntington Coach.
“I think it’s unfair because we put in the work. We paid our dues. We know the town, we know a lot of the people around here,” Banks said. “They’re not licensed, they don’t take the drug test. We are being watched, we are being managed, as well. And they’re not.”
Town of East Hampton officials last year effectively prevented Uber drivers from operating service within the town by changing town code to require taxi cars be registered with an East Hampton Town address in order to get a license from the town. Officials cited high volumes of traffic as the concern that led to the change. According to reports, Uber has since stopped operating in the Town of East Hampton.