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September 1, 2014

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J. Patrick Coolican:

Ever get the feeling the Las Vegas cab industry is long-hauling regulators?

Image

Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Taxis are seen queued up at McCarran International Airport Friday, March 22, 2013.

Updated Wednesday, May 1, 2013 | 6:30 p.m.

J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican

Long Haul Checkpoint

Taxicab Authority Police Senior Investigator I. Williams stop taxi driver Tesfaye Beshah at a long haul checkpoint near the entrance to the airport tunnel exiting McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas on Friday, June 8, 2012. Beshah got a ticket for long hauling. Launch slideshow »

Welcome to Las Vegas. Now I’m going to steal $10 from you.

That’s the message we’re sending to thousands of tourists every year who get in a cab at McCarran International Airport and are taken to their hotel the long way.

At least when the hotels take the tourists’ money, it’s based on a bet whose odds are well known. But the cabbies are just flat-out stealing, and our political system is so inept that it refuses or is unable to act.

Legislative auditors reviewed 2,730 trip sheets from the airport and found that 614 of them — 22.5 percent — included reports of drivers taking passengers on a longer route than necessary. This amounted to $14.8 million taken from taxi passengers, according to the report released this week.

Yellow Checker Star Transportation disputed the findings of the audit, calling it “wildly reckless and inaccurate.” But plenty of people think the estimates are low, that the problem is even worse than the audit alleges.

Imagine if a gang of thieves had stolen this much money from casinos or ATM machines or 7-Elevens? We’d be all over it.

When it comes to stealing from taxi passengers, however, that sound you hear is the shuffling of feet and the scratching of heads. Hmmm. How do we solve this problem? Hmmm.

As my colleague Rick Velotta reported recently, of 1,594 citations written by Taxicab Authority officers in 2012, only 120 — or 0.0004 percent of the 27 million total taxi rides — were for long-haul violations.

The drivers say the companies tacitly, if not explicitly, encourage the practice. The companies say they try to stop long-hauling but are powerless to do so. Believe who you want, or believe none of them, but pay attention because otherwise you’ll be driving by Red Rock on your way to the Strip.

Aside from the long-hauling, the reality is that the whole game is rigged, a cartel. There are only nine ownership groups that control the 2,200 cabs on the road at any one time, a less-than-free market controlled by the juiced-in Taxicab Authority board. It’s basically like OPEC.

The simplest way to solve the long-haul problem is to adopt a flat rate from the airport to various points on the Strip, just like other cities have done. That way, there’s no temptation to long-haul.

The Taxicab Authority studied this proposal ad nauseum before the industry shut it down. If the companies are so intent on stopping long-hauling, why are they against the flat rate? The question answers itself: Of course they’re not trying to stop long-hauling. Long-hauling puts millions in their pockets every year.

As if to add insult to injury, one company wants to sell the Taxicab Authority software that would detect and prevent long-hauling, like a hacker selling you anti-virus software.

How on earth did the taxi companies get so powerful?

Well, just take a look at the industry’s list of paid lobbyists at the Legislature.

Frias Transportation alone is represented by former Assembly Ways and Means Chairman Morse Arberry, who once pleaded guilty to taking $120,000 in campaign donations and dropping it in his personal account; friend of the governor and superlobbyist Greg Ferraro; former Assembly speaker and Henderson police Chief Richard Perkins; and law and lobbying firm Snell & Wilmer, which also employs two state senators.

Do you ever wonder why you pay a $3 surcharge to use a debit or credit card in a cab? As my former colleague David Schwartz reported, the average Las Vegas cab fare has been about $13.50 in recent years, which means the $3 fee works out to an average 22 percent surcharge. Imagine paying a 22 percent surcharge to use your credit card at the grocery or sporting goods store.

Why do you think we don’t have light rail or some high-quality transit to and from the airport like so many other cities? It will never happen due to the power of the cab lobby.

Our only hope on the long-hauling front is that the hotels raise a ruckus about their customers showing up with 10 fewer dollars to spend on watered-down cocktails.

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  1. I wonder if they could shut down the tunnel to cab traffic unless they were going to Henderson or North Las Vegas. Make them all take Paradise to Trop to the Strip. Have a cop standing at the exit to Paradise a couple of days a week. Even though most cab drivers have the IQ of a third grader, they might start to follow the rules if they got a ticket or two. Nah, the companies would grease the palms of the pols in Vegas, and it would continue to be SOP, taking visitors on a scenic and expensive ride to their hotel.

  2. Open it up to competition like the car services like Uber who have flat rates and it's charged directly to your card. As it is now the drivers and companies will continue their behavior.

    On the few occasions I use a cab the first thing I tell the cabbie is that I'm a local and to use Trop to get to the airport.

  3. A familiar end game for the Free Market Economy. Maybe Government oversight should be eliminated so the cabbies can work more efficiently.

  4. As an annual visitor to Las Vegas from the UK I've quickly learnt not to trust LV taxi drivers. For our next trip, Presidential Limos are booked to pick us up from the airport and take us back there when it's time to leave, and we'll either use the bus or walk during our stay.

    Getting a cab is a last resort for us.

  5. Much was made of the new Nevadan slogan. Yet, the first and last experience that most tourists to Las Vegas have is a cab ride. And 25 percent of these are overbilled at least $10 and if the amount is lowered to $5, it's even more. Paris, France is ignominiously remembered for it's unfair and higher taxi ride costs to Americans. Is Las Vegas vying for the same legacy in the USA?

    Carmine D

  6. Whether it's true or not, the story has received national attention. The taxi industry needs to act quickly and should look to a PR firm for damage control. Unfortunately this will also have a negative impact on the city's image.

  7. Not all cab drivers or companies want to long haul passengers. I know several drivers who ask their fairs which way they want to go and about what it will cost. Most people who come to Vegas to play, really want to get to their destination as quickly as possible, and sometimes that means taking a more expensive route. What is up with all the haters out there???? Not all apples are rotten, and when these stories come out, and comments are made, it does affect people and their households... Stop and think about what you are saying.... Girlfriend to a hard working cab driver in Las Vegas

  8. somebody in the taxi stand at the airport should hold up a sign warning of long hauling or there should be a permanent sign up . or better yet have prices up on how much you are expected to pay on the hotel you are going to . this happens everyday at the airport .more so during the week when it is slow . now they need to do investigations of the strip clubs having to pay taxis that bring tourist to there clubs and how much the drivers make from 9pm until dawn .

  9. I agree a flat rate, much like what the shuttles offer, would solve the problem. In fact, when I arrive at the airport, I usually opt for the shuttle over the cab -- it may be a little slower, but in the long run it is cheaper.

    As a victim of long-hauling (there was supposedly an accident on Swenson), I have not tipped the driver and thanked him for taking the long way to the airport.

    Hopefully the taxi cab commission will adopt something. Being "taken for a ride" upon your arrival or departure from Las Vegas leaves a bitter taste in one's mouth.

  10. Iike this is the biggest problem in Vegas. Fake outrage. I have more of a problem that their is a law that lets them work over 40 hours a week & they don't get o.t.

  11. I don't understand why the casino owners don't do something about this. This is money that is literally driving right up to their doorsteps, but never making it inside. Or doesn't Steve Wynn care about money anymore?

  12. The audtitors' cost calculation assumes no use of the longer route only use of the shorter, more direct route. Did the auditors also do traffic studies to be sure that the shorter route can handle all the increased taxi traffic if the longer route is eleminated? The auditors noted the increased fares due to using the longer route but did they factor in subjective cost savings such as the customers arriving sooner at the Strip locations as oppossed to sitting in traffic on the shorter route?

  13. Competition could fix most of that problem... Uber

  14. Nobody is getting hit in the pocket book except the visitor. The real issue here is tourist not coming back. That number has not been searched because it would take big $$$ to do so. I don't care what business you are in return customers make or break you. The economy in LV is starting to improve so lets stay fat dumb and happy until the next drop and lets not be pro active and learn the lessons from the last downfall. Strike one is all ready in place because of the rip off fees and charges the airline industry has on the traveler now they get slapped in the face with another scam of long hauling and a $3.00 charge for using plastic. If you noticed many large Hotel/Casinos are now offering shuttle service to customers who book a package with them so don't count on them to enter this fight they did not cause it. So the new motto when the big Observation Wheels open is come to Las Vegas we'll give you a ride especially when you take a Taxi!!!

  15. Simple Fix.. List FLAT fees per hotel

  16. The Wall Street Journal has an article in todays paper descibing this exact cab cartel situation in Denver. Only now the cartel has to allow in new companies and competition. This is exactly what Vegas needs.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424...

  17. There are multiple transportation alternatives besides cabs in Las Vegas, many, if not all hotels offer free shuttles to and from the airport. I usually drive my car to Vegas and save tons in cab fares, not to mention saving lots of time overall by not having to walk to a cab stand. You can also rent a car at the airport upon arrival and return it at the airport when you leave, again, saves you tons of money and time versus cab fares. Only be not using cabs will they get the hint

  18. Now that I live here, I cannot believe the routes these cabs would take to get me to and from the strip hotels when I flew in for trade shows. Just plain thievery is what it is. They need get that monorail out to the airport as a light rail alternative (I know its a sore subject) like they have in every city.

    BTW, last CES I was at a party at the Venetian and felt I shouldn't drive home. Over $80 to get me from there to my home near 215/Aliante. What is that, 10 miles? Thats theft!!!!

  19. thewookie,

    While I will agree $80 is to much since you live here you should not have let your self be ripped off like that.

    If you use I-15 to 215 it is 21.3 Miles fromthe Venetian to 215/Aliante.

    Using 95 it would be 22.7 miles.

    I-15/Losee rd. it would only be 17.2 miles.

    Be part of the solution, not the problem. Know how far things are and don't get ripped off. Call the TA and report them when it happens. Agree to file the report. That is one of the biggest problems the TA agents have is getting people to just sign the report. They don't want to take the 5 minutes it takes to do it from their Vacation time.

  20. Mr. Coolican, excellent article. I stopped using cabs to the airport after several examples of poor service. The last time, they just never showed up, I had to hitchhike to the terminal. I do fly out several times a year and use the bus, RTC! I walk a 1/2 block to a main street day or night, pay my $3 for a two hour pass, change my bus once and I'm at the terminal in less than an hour and a half, and I live near Nellis AFB. It's a great deal, the drivers are good to outstanding. One driver on the airport express to the west side, called himself razor, was the most knowledgeable and helpful driver I've ever seen, anywhere. It's a shock to return from Chicago and see how much better we along here, what ever income level we are.

    I think we all need to consider how competitive our transportation systems are compared to other cities. Salt Lake City just finished a link to the airport for their new rail system. I must say their trains are great. Another is the fabulous airport near Seoul, South Korea. It's at Incheon, near the coast, with a new high speed rail link to Seoul. On the other end of the scale you can ride the Jeepneys in the Philippines, very inexpensive.

  21. I solve the problem by telling the Cabbie which way to go. I visit 2-4 times per year. I will not tolerate long hauling. If by chance the Cabbie gets on the Freeway I complain, loudly, and eliminate his tip. As he is being compensated by the extra fare.

  22. No wonder the monorail is failing, and that is an expense that locals will need to absorb. Add an airport connection to the monorail and then let the cab companies charge what they want. At least visitors will have a choice.