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May 24, 2015

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How to curb taxi long-hauling? A flat rate to Strip might do trick

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Christopher DeVargas

Tunnel vision: If you get driven through this on your way from McCarran to the Strip, you are being duped.

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 »

The illegal long-hauling of taxi passengers could be a thing of the past under a new bill that would create a flat-rate fare system for all trips between McCarran International Airport and the Las Vegas Strip.

Assembly Bill 329 would give the Nevada Taxicab Authority the power to create zones in Las Vegas in which taxi rides between specific locations would cost the same amount, regardless of the distance traveled or amount of time it takes to get there.

Assemblyman Andrew Martin, D-Las Vegas, told the Assembly Committee on Transportation Tuesday that the bill he’s sponsoring would eliminate the “epidemic” of long-hauling, which he said is costing customers more than $10 million annually.

“Self-regulation, which I generally like, is not working,” Martin said. “(Long-hauling) is causing damage to our economy. It’s giving us a bad name and a bad reputation.”

The bill, which would also increase penalties for long-hauling and allow the revocation of a taxi cab license after three infractions within 12 months, will face stiff opposition from the taxi cab industry.

Representatives from Frias Transportation Group and Yellow-Checker-Star, two of the valley’s biggest cab companies, testified Tuesday that a flat-rate fare system would be unfair to drivers, taxi companies and customers.

Flat rate systems don’t take into account that hotels are different distances from the airport, said Mark James, CEO of Frias’ parent company. He added that traffic congestion can affect how long a ride takes and how much a driver should be compensated.

“Nevada would be doing an about-face … were they to consider to implement flat rates or zone rates because they do not work,” James said. “If you do have a zone system or a flat rate system, someone on some ride is paying more than they should pay and someone on another ride is paying less than they should pay.”

Members of the transportation committee had several questions about how the bill would impact drivers and whether enough effort had been made to include taxi companies in finding a solution to long-hauling.

“A flat fare doesn’t take into consideration the time of the driver. He or she could work an eight hour shift and depending on congestion have fewer fares,” said Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas. “I think that’s an important component that they should be able to weigh in on. This will be their livelihoods that you’re affecting.”

Under the bill, the taxicab authority could create multiple zones along the Strip to account for the varying distances, Martin said.

For instance, a trip to southern Strip casinos like the Luxor or New York-New York might cost $12 to $17, while a ride to northern hotels like the Mirage or the Venetian might run between $16 and $21, according to a tentative fare breakdown included in the committee’s background material.

The taxicab authority could also add surcharges to the flat rates to compensate for higher traffic at different times of the day or for special events, Martin said.

“Long-hauling is rampant and it angers tourists,” he said. “One of the things this bill does not do is set the actual fare. What we’re trying to do is establish certainty. If people know when they leave the airport it’s going to be $22 to a certain hotel, they’ll feel better about the situation.”

James said taxi companies take the long-hauling problem seriously and are attempting to address it through better technology.

In January, the Taxicab Authority approved a pilot program for a cloud-based vehicle monitoring system that would use GPS technology to track and store the routes of taxis, making it easier to identify and punish long-haulers.

“Meters are the best way. We understand they’re subject to abuse and we take it very seriously,” James said. “We intend to do everything to stop (long-hauling) and we think the route to that is the implementation of technology.”

No action was taken on the bill Tuesday. It will be discussed again at a future transportation committee meeting.

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