Uber looms large at Edgartown taxi hearing

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Edgartown selectmen met with grim-faced taxi owners Monday for the town’s annual license-renewal hearing. The topic that dominated discussion was the recent interest of Uber, the Internet-driven ride-share business, which has begun sounding out the Vineyard in classified ads looking for drivers.

Taxi owners said if Uber is allowed to grow on the Island unchecked, it would eventually devastate their businesses. The owners asked the town to issue a cease and desist order to the company.

Town administrator Pam Dolby said that Brookline and Cambridge had issued similar orders, but that Edgartown’s taxi regulations would prevent such an action.

“On the advice of town counsel, we are not going to take any action at this time,” Selectman Margaret Serpa said.

Taxicab company owner Benoit Baldwin said Uber has crisscrossed the nation with lobbyists and lawyers, upending state taxi legislation. He emphasized the need for battle at the local level.

“It’s your town counsel against their high-powered corporate attorneys,” he said.

“As a board, we’re a little bit out of our depth, because we’ve never had to deal with anything like this,” Chairman Arthur Smadbeck said.

He told the taxi owners the town didn’t know when town counsel would make a recommendation, but that the selectmen’s office would notify each company after they hear what he has to say.

Selectman Michael Donaroma was absent from the hearing.