NYACK, NY — Legislator Ilan Schoenberger is reintroducing a request that could allow Rockland County to license limousines, taxis, and other cars for hire and to check the backgrounds of their drivers.
Currently, only a few villages, such as Spring Valley, license local taxi and limousine operators.
For Rockland to regulate limousines, liveries, and taxis it needs NY State's permission in the form of home-rule authority. Villages and towns are authorized by state law to license taxis and other cars without home-rule legislation.
"You, as members of the public, don't know whose car you are getting into," Schoenberger said, citing recent criminal cases involving local drivers.
Two weeks ago, Patrick Gwinn, a 49-year-old driver for Rockland Taxi, was arrested after sheriff's patrol officers said they found cocaine, marijuana and hydrocodone (a semi-synthetic opioid) in his possession while he was driving the cab in Nanuet. He also was alleged to be driving with a suspended license and was wanted by Spring Valley police.
Schoenberger said having a central body would let the county ensure that companies had insurance, drivers were properly licensed and were not criminals. Also, taxi company owners and drivers would have to secure only a single license and pay fees in one place.
A subcommittee approved the request earlier this week, and Schoenberger expected the Legislature to vote on it at its Dec. 6 meeting.
That would give the state plenty of time to consider the home-rule request, Schoenberger said.
Earlier this year, Schoenberger, D-Wesley Hills, and Legislator David Fried, D-Spring Valley, submitted a similar measure that was approved by fellow lawmakers.
Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski Sr. had planned to submit the home-rule bill, but he died in office March 18. His successor, son Kenneth Zebrowski Jr., introduced the request to the Assembly in early June, but it was too late into the session to be heard.
"I support it, and it's something we'll work on next year," Zebrowski said. "It's something important for us to have jurisdiction over."
If county lawmakers proceed with it again, state Sen. Thomas Morahan would again introduce a bill to support home rule, his spokesman said yesterday, though he said language issues remained to be sorted out.
The county has previously tried to regulate the taxi and limo industry. In 2001, Gov. George Pataki vetoed giving Rockland home rule because, he said, many towns and villages did not support the measure, and they wanted to decide the best ways to regulate the vehicles.
Raphael Ziegler, chairman of the Rockland County Taxi and Livery Coalition, testified Tuesday night that he supported a central body.
Not only would it protect the consumer, it would protect drivers, said Ziegler, who owns Emunah Transportation in Monsey.
Businesses that play by the rules often are undercut by drivers who operate illegally, he said.
"It hurts us financially, and it hurts our reputation when they do something wrong because there's no accountability," Ziegler said.
Clarkstown put off implementing its own local regulations when the taxi and livery companies said they had gone through and paid for virtually the same background checks in other parts of Rockland.
Nyack is seeking to craft a law that would require background checks of all taxi drivers working in the riverfront village. Its previous regulations expired in 2003.
SOURCE: The Journal News — Lower Hudson Valley, New York