The East End has a dearth of public transportation options, and East Hampton Town’s ban of Uber is an unwise move that, although instituted to protect local businesses, has far-reaching, unintended negative consequences.
Namely, taking away another transportation option only serves to encourage drinking and driving; and, it prevents people from supporting local bars and restaurants at the fear of overindulging or, as anyone who has called a cab company and waited well over a half hour for it to arrive, of being stranded.
In East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell’s statement banning Uber, he asserts that Uber is an unnecessary addition to the East End transportation scene, noting that there are a wide array of local cab and public transportation options. Said Cantwell, “Even in Uber’s absence from the market, there are more than 220 licensed taxis and vehicles for hire and other public transportation options available in the Town of East Hampton ready to provide services to those in need of a ride.”
The most egregious of these assertions is the note that there are public transportation options ready to curtail instances of drinking and driving. The East End is served by two forms of public transportation, the S92 bus and the Long Island Rail Road, neither of which accommodate late-night revelers. The last S92 bus, which only goes as far east as East Hampton, and thus serves no use for people going out in Montauk, departs its easternmost stop, the East Hampton railroad station, at 6:10 p.m. If you miss that, you’re stranded in East Hampton until the next bus at 7:34 a.m. For those considering using the Long Island Railroad as a way to hop between towns, the last weekend westbound train train departs Montauk at 7:33 p.m. Thus, the most viable solution for the majority of East Enders to travel home is a local cab company.
Though not a terrible solution—and a truly great solution if you’re other option is to drink and drive—local cab companies have a reputation for charging exorbitantly high fares, and for charging per passenger, meaning that your wallet suffers when you travel with friends. Anecdotally, I took a cab from Sag Harbor Village to Southampton Village over the weekend, with a stop along the way to drop my friend in Noyac. Though I was told that the ride to Southampton Village would be $30, we were charged an additional $20 for the stop, even though it was along the way to Southampton. Plus tip, I paid $60 to travel 13.5 miles. Cab fares on the East End are nearly double what they are in New York City, where traveling 13.5 miles ($2.50, plus 50 cents per 1/5 mile) would have cost $36.25.
It’s a crime that people are punished for deciding to patronize businesses in another town, but the high cost of going out for a drink means that I’ll either choose to stay in; or to rarely leave my home village. If enough people make this decision, what does this mean for businesses at local bars and restaurants? No doubt a bar can attract more than enough customers in July and August, but what if more people decided to go out during the shoulder months? Uber can certainly assist in this regard.
Uber is not a perfect solution. The minimum fare to take an Uber in the Hamptons is $25, compared to a $5 minimum in Boston and $8 minimum fare in New York City. Maybe, if Uber ever comes back, they can work on instituting a more competitive fare. But for now, Uber’s strength comes with its ability to track exactly when your ride will come—something local cab companies don’t do—and to divide fares with fellow riders on the spot. Simply open up the app, type in your friend’s phone number, and you’ll both be charged half. Up to four people can split the fare. What’s more, Uber recruits local people to drive their own cars, meaning that anyone living on the East End could have had the opportunity to make additional money on any given night.
Living on the East End presents a unique set of challenges. Being stranded without a ride shouldn’t be one of them.