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July 31, 2015

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Joe Downtown: Companies dangle carrot to encourage short-haul taxi rides downtown

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Justin M. Bowen

A taxi driver drops off passengers at the newly-renovated Plaza Hotel and Casino in downtown Las Vegas Wednesday, September 14, 2011.

All he wanted was a lift from one end of Fremont Street to the other.

The problem was, Kent Johns, co-owner of The Atomic tavern, was trying to get a cabbie to give him a ride.

No can do, the cabbie replied; it’s not far enough and not worth the trouble.

“I just about jumped through the window,” Johns said, recalling his anger.

That’s the general emotion of most people who have had the same experience the last several months downtown.

Having grown used to a steady diet of McCarran International Airport-to-The Strip fares that brings in more money than carrying someone a mile or two downtown, cab drivers now are known to ignore passengers who want shorter rides, especially in downtown Las Vegas.

Eager not to lose business in a part of town growing economically and in popularity, cab companies are fighting back – with a carrot, not a stick.

Partnering with the Downtown Las Vegas Alliance, they are starting a Mystery Rider program downtown. In short, cab drivers will be rewarded for hauling riders who don’t need a long, expensive ride.

Starting this week, “mystery riders,” people armed with $50 and hired by cab companies, will give an extra $50 bills to drivers who provide short rides without complaint and with courtesy.

Cab drivers won’t know who the riders are, so they reject customers at risk of losing an easy $50.

The program will begin this Friday.

Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover downtown, he lives and works there. Schoenmann is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded downtown journalist, working from an office in the Emergency Arts building.

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