Edgartown selectmen take steps to regulate Uber

Edgartown Selectmen Art Smadbeck, left, and Michael Donaroma share a laugh Monday night. — Photo by Michael Cummo

Edgartown selectmen unanimously approved amended taxicab regulations Monday night that broadened the definition of taxicabs and taxicab companies to include transportation network companies and private vehicles used by such businesses. The changes will affect Uber operations in the town.

Uber, which pegs itself a “ride sharing” company, has come under fire from local Island taxi company owners, who say it operates without regulation and undercuts taxi fares.

Under the changes, Uber will have to apply for licensing before the board of selectmen to operate a transportation business, as well as have all vehicles licensed to transport customers. Drivers will also have to be licensed by the police department, just as taxi drivers are. Vehicle drivers will need to identify themselves, in accordance with advertising regulations, with the company name displayed on each side of the vehicle, as well as with the town name on the back.

“The only section I didn’t put them in was down on the taxicab stand — they’re contacted by iPhones, usually,” Town Administrator Pam Dolby told selectmen Monday. “They don’t need a place to stand and try to get theirs.”

UberX, the standard Uber service, uses freelance drivers who drive their own personal cars. Drivers are solicited by customers through the Uber app, which links directly to the customer’s credit card and eliminates cash exchange. Once a connection is made, the app presents the customer with the make and model of the car they’ll be picked up in, as well as a name and photo of the driver.

Ms. Dolby said the changes have been reviewed by town counsel.

The only comment during the public hearing came from Melanie West of Stagecoach Taxi.

“I read the regulations,” Ms. West said. “They seemed straightforward to me.”

The amendments allow for Edgartown to levy fines against Uber if the company is noncompliant. Potential fines include $300 a day for operating an unlicensed vehicle, $50 a day for not displaying the town’s name on the rear of the vehicle, and $25 a day for not submitting the vehicle for police inspection. Uber has accrued tens of thousands of dollars of fines in cities where similar restrictions were put in place.

Chappy ferry line

Edgartown selectmen also heard recommendations brought by the Edgartown planning board intended to help alleviate traffic issues on the Edgartown side of the Chappy ferry staging line, which often snakes back along the town’s narrow roadways.

The planning board recommended the assignment of two full-time officers to direct traffic, and increased signage along Simpsons Lane.

The planning board suggested stationing a traffic officer at the intersection of Simpsons Lane and North Summer Street, and another at Simpsons Lane and North Water Street. “I think that if somebody was over there as a regular, who knew the people and how the line works, it could go a long way to solving this problem,” said planning board member Robert Sparks.

As early as this week, and weather permitting, Highway Superintendent Stuart Fuller said, green lines will be painted along Simpsons Lane to delineate proper waiting spaces. Either yellow or red paint will partition driveways and other areas that cars should not block.

The planning board recommended two new signs. One would be placed on Peases Point Way to mark the end of the staging line. If the line is full, those who want to ride the ferry will have to come back later. The second sign would be placed somewhere along the staging line, with an estimate of how long it takes to board the ferry from that point.

The planning board recommended hiring a traffic consultant as soon as this summer to assess long-term solutions.

“Everybody [consultants] comes to Martha’s Vineyard in the winter, and sees that there’s no problem, so they don’t really understand what the problems really are,” said planning board assistant Georgiana Greenough.

Peter Wells, owner of the Chappy ferry, is working to set up a new webcam at the Lightkeeper’s Inn that will stream the traffic status on the ferry’s website. Webcams already provide views of the ferry docks at the bottom of Daggett Street, and on Chappaquiddick Road at the Chappaquiddick side’s staging line.