The taxicab driver police say participated in a home invasion on Horton Avenue early Sunday morning — using his taxi as the getaway car, according to police — did not have a permit to operate the taxi in the Town of Riverhead, as required by a law adopted by the town in May 2011.
But Howard Ferebee, 28, who told the court at his arraignment Sunday afternoon that he works as a cab driver for Hampton Town Taxi, is apparently not the only taxi driver operating without a permit in Riverhead Town.
In fact, only eight people currently hold Riverhead Town taxicab operator permits — despite the fact that there are 26 vehicles, owned by five different taxi companies, licensed as taxicabs by the Town of Riverhead. A total of 14 people received 30-day temporary permits in 2012, but only three of them subsequently obtained permanent permits.
“I’m very surprised to hear that,” Riverhead Town Councilman John Dunleavy, who proposed the taxicab law adopted two years ago, said Monday.
“The problem is enforcement. It’s a shame that this town has no enforcement,” Dunleavy said.
The councilman, a retired Riverhead cop, said he pushed for the licensing law to try to protect town residents from unscrupulous operators.
“Senior citizens and people who can’t afford to own vehicles rely on taxi cabs to go shopping, to get to doctors’ appointments, to get to work. I want them to be safe, to have a safe driver and a mechanically sound, clean cab,” Dunleavy said.
The taxi cab law requires fingerprinting, background checks and drug testing of all applicants for operator permits.
“Residents should know they don’t have a sex maniac driving them, or an alcoholic or a drug addict,” Dunleavy said. The town adopted the code in May 2011 after a series of traffic accidents involving cabs on area roadways. One crash involved a cabbie who allegedly ran a red light and was found to be in possession of a crack pipe, according to police.
Dunleavy said Riverhead cops should be routinely enforcing the taxicab licensing laws, but that isn’t happening.
“When they’re parked by the train station waiting to pick up passengers, cops should be checking for permits,” the councilman said. “When they see a cab without a sticker, they should pull it over.”
Police Chief David Hegermiller said yesterday he didn’t know whether any coordinated enforcement effort by the police department had taken place since the law went into effect, or whether that was something undertaken by the town’s code enforcement unit, which operates out of the town attorney’s office. Otherwise, Hegermiller said, violations are handled “on a case by case basis.” If a taxicab is stopped for a traffic violation or involved in an accident, and the cab or the driver is not licensed, a ticket would be issued, he said.
Town attorney Robert Kozakiewicz said code enforcement officers were aware of the issue. He said some prospective applicants have been disqualified by fingerprint checks.
Town Supervisor Sean Walter said he would rather see police, not code enforcement officers, enforcing the taxicab law.
“I will make sure we look into this,” Walter said yesterday. “If there are only eight licensed operators, obviously that’s not right.”
Councilman James Wooten — like Dunleavy, a retired Riverhead cop — said he was dismayed to learn there were so few licensed operators.
“There certainly are a lot more cabs on our roads at any given time,” Wooten said. “Once it was enacted, I assumed safeguards were in place,” he said. But the paperwork on file in the town clerk’s office proves otherwise, he said.
“If a company’s got six vehicles with permits, but only one driver, that’s a red flag,” Wooten said.
Five companies currently have taxicab business licenses issued by Riverhead Town, according to the Riverhead town clerk’s files.
Day and Night Taxi and Limo, 1681 West Main St., is owned by Saeed Akhtar, of Riverhead, Zafar Mahmood, of Brooklyn, and Atif Bashir, of Mattituck. It has three licensed cabs and three operators with town permits.
Riverside Taxi Corporation, 454 Riverleigh Avenue, Riverside, owned by Naeem Safdar, of Riverside has one licensed vehicle. There is no record in the clerk’s office of any licensed operator employed by Riverside.
Moonlight Classic Taxi, of 135 Railroad Avenue, Riverhead, is owned by Mohammad Asif, of Riverhead. Moonlight Classic Taxi has 10 currently licensed taxicab vehicles and three operators that have town permits.
Love Transportation Corporation, 426 Riverleigh Avenue, Riverside, is owned by Naeem Saldar, of Riverside. It has four currently licensed cabs and one operator with a town permit.
Best Ride of Hampton, Inc., which operates Hampton Town Taxi and Riverhead Town Taxi, is also located at 454 Riverleigh Avenue in Riverside. Best Ride is owned by Mohammad Saldar of Riverside, according to its permit application. The company has eight licensed vehicles, but there is only one operator’s permit held by a person who lists Best Ride as his employer. (According to New York Department of State Division of Corporations records available online, the corporate entity Best Ride of Hampton Inc. — as well as Best Ride of Riverhead Inc. registered at the same address, 454 Riverleigh Avenue — was dissolved by proclamation of the secretary of state on Oct. 26, 2011. There was a note about this in the town clerk’s file on the company, but a subsequent note indicated the corporation had been reinstated.) Best Ride’s location is also the site of an auto repair shop, Best Price Auto Repairs & Tires.
Riverhead’s 2011 town law makes it illegal for a taxi company to allow the operation of any cab by someone who does not have an operator’s permit as required by the statute. In addition to the town permit, operators are also required to hold the appropriate driver’s license issued by the state.
Violation of any portion of the taxicab ordinance is punishable by imprisonment of up to 15 days and/or a fine of $500 per violation for the first offense. Second offenses are punishable by a minimum fine of $500 up to $1,500 and up to 15 days in jail. The minimum fine for the third offense is $1,000 plus revocation of the license fo a minimum of one year.
The law prohibits issuance of an operator’s permit to any person with a felony conviction within the last 10 years, or any crime involving the possession or sale of illegal drugs, or operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or a conviction requiring registration as a sex offender, or a conviction of reckless driving or endangering the welfare of a child.
The statute also authorizes the town to bring an injunction proceeding or other court action to enforce its provisions.
“It’s nice to have it on paper,” Dunleavy said yesterday, “but if you’re not doing anything to enforce it, what good is it?”
Hampton Town Taxi driver Howard Ferebee, who police said “acted in concert” with Tremel Kelly, 20, of Riverhead, to break into a Horton Avenue home and steal a television set early Sunday morning, has a 2005 conviction for assault in the second degree, for which he was sentenced to 16 months to seven years in prison, according to court records.