Since Uber (UBER) was reportedly ousted from East Hampton almost two months ago, Hamptonites have had to manage their summertime revelries without the ride-sharing app. In the wake of Mayor Bill de Blasio backing away from his proposed Uber cap legislation, it remains to be seen if East Hampton will follow suit.
But did East Hampton really ban Uber in the first place?
Not exactly. However, it is now “impossible for Uber to operate,” according to Town of Southampton attorney Dan Rodgers, who represented the twenty three Uber drivers who were arrested over Memorial Day weekend and the following week for failure to have a business license and other minor violations. The charges have since been resolved.
Yet East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell told the Observer that Uber still has avenues at its disposal to remain intact on the East End. “We did not ban Uber,” he said. “They decided to leave the market.”
According to Mr. Cantwell, “Uber can recruit any of the 250 drivers who are already licensed in East Hampton to become affiliated with Uber. Or Uber can recruit new partner drivers in East Hampton who want to start their own business because our taxi laws allow residents to register up to two vehicles registered to their address as part of a home business. So Uber has a few ways of doing business in East Hampton, but they just have to be flexible.”
In addition to these business altering options, Mr. Cantwell asserts that Uber can still drop off passengers who use the service to pickup from outside the town, as well as from inside the town to anywhere beyond the town boundary.
Mr. Rodgers sees the law as a dangerous precedent. “[It’s] a game changer, in that they have changed the law that if you pick up someone without an office,” he said. “The driver can go to jail.”
Uber claims it has found these alternative ways to operate incompatible. Alix Anfang, a senior communications associate at Uber indicated to the Observer, like Mr. Rodgers, that the law essentially bans Uber from the Town and is counter to the best interests of Hamptons residents.
As the Hamptons is a mostly seasonal community, the demand for livery cars dramatically increases during the summer months. Traditional local taxi services, some residents say, are lacking in number of actual vehicles, rarely operate after midnight and are too costly. However, this is changing according to Bryan DaParma, the proprietor of Hometown Taxi based in East Hampton. “With Uber leaving… I partnered with a taxi dispatching app, Hamptons Taxi, similar to Uber’s,” Mr. DaParma said, noting that there are even advantages to using his Hamptons Taxi app. “You have the choice to pay cash,” he said. “The app also allows for card sharing, whereas Uber’s does not have that capability.”
Hometown Taxi, a company of eighty-five vehicles and a further twenty affiliated with the service, has noticed an increase in business since the new law was implemented and has already processed hundreds of rides through the app which recently debuted along with Gata Hub, a similar app used by Ditch Plains Taxi Company in Montauk. Mr. DaParma does expect Uber to make a play to return to business on the East End, but remains unfazed. Other cab companies based in the East End have signed on with Hamptons Taxi and competitor Gata Hub, and thus far have been managing the uptick in business while keeping costs low. In addition, Mr. DaParma related that the Hamptons Taxi app is “not taking a percentage, as of yet, from drivers’ fares,” as opposed to the 30% fee Uber mandates.
Despite these efforts, “Local taxi companies… were trying to emulate Uber to a degree,” Mr. Rodger’s said. “But now that Uber has pulled out, there’s no incentive to improve their service.”
However, Mr. Rodgers was confident that Uber would win the day. “Uber is inevitable. The only people who don’t want Uber right now are the other cab companies,” he maintained. “I see absolutely no logical nexus between promoting public health and safety with having an office in East Hampton.”