Editorial: Keep Riverhead’s taxi passengers safe

Riverhead is one of only a few Long Island towns that do not regulate cab drivers and cab company owners. And after years of prodding by Councilman John Dunleavy, that soon may change.

Town officials have moved a proposal to the front burner that would require cabbies to be drug tested and fingerprinted and undergo background checks if they want to operate within town limits. The idea is to keep potentially dangerous people — such as drug addicts, reckless drivers, child abusers and sex offenders — from picking up unsuspecting passengers.

It’s clear something needs to be done. Last year, in Flanders and Riverside, two cab drivers were arrested in separate incidents for driving under the influence of drugs. In one case, police said, a driver was carrying a crack pipe and admitted to smoking crack while on the job. Random drug testing would help prevent at least some drug users from getting behind the wheel.

It makes sense for Riverhead to enact protections similar to those in other towns. Of course, it doesn’t always make sense to legislate with an “everyone else is doing it” mind-set. But if the town continues to lag on this issue, it could create a haven for cabbies who can’t get jobs elsewhere on Long Island. That’s something our lawmakers owe it to their constituents to avoid.

It will be interesting to see if cabbies and cab company owners show up at Town Hall for a future public hearing on the proposals. None responded to a News-Review reporter’s request to answer questions. Their input could help the Town Board avoid any unintended consequences; we wouldn’t want to see people without access to cars suddenly have limited access to cabs, for example.

The board has been considering a taxi ordinance for five years. The time is now to get something on the books.