Wednesday, July 14, 2010 | 6:49 p.m.
Representatives of Southern Nevada’s taxicab industry today rejected a proposal from the Nevada Taxicab Authority to set cab fares at a flat rate of $20 from McCarran International Airport to the Strip.
The flat-rate proposal was developed as a means of preventing long-hauling, the illegal practice of driving passengers on a longer and more expensive route to their destinations.
There are differing opinions about how rampant the practice has become, but most often it involves drivers delivering passengers to the Strip by way of the airport tunnel.
Trips by way of the tunnel can cost a customer $10 to $20 more than a more direct route, but meters also calculate “wait time” when a cab is crawling through traffic, which could make a direct route more expensive.
At a workshop meeting this morning, industry leaders countered the flat-rate proposal with a plan to keep existing metered rates, increase the penalty for long-hauling, requiring internal disciplinary measures at cab companies and displaying a rate card listing the approximate fares customers can expect.
The industry also proposed the posting of a customer “bill of rights” in every cab.
Jonathan Schwartz, a director for Yellow Checker Star, the city’s largest cab company, said most of Southern Nevada’s cab companies back keeping the metered rates and beefing up disciplinary enforcement on long-hauling.
He said the implementation of a flat rate in Cleveland failed because companies and regulators couldn’t agree upon rates that would be profitable for the cab companies and drivers avoided serving customers on short routes that paid less.
Taxicab Authority Administrator Gordon Walker said he hasn’t reached a conclusion on how to proceed on the flat-rate proposal after the two-hour meeting. He said he may refine the proposal further, possibly introducing zoned pricing and conducting another meeting later this year.
He said his agency would continue to battle against long-hauling, citing suspected drivers and using undercover passengers to find violators.
While representatives of the cab companies generally favored keeping metered rates, drivers attending the meeting were split on whether metered rates or flat rates would be better for them. Some believe they would get fewer tips under a flat-rate system.
Drivers also complained that they are under pressure from their managers to generate more revenue and turn to long-hauling customers as a way to boost profits.
How often does long-hauling occur?
Taxicab Authority officials said they received 836 long-hauling complaints and issued more than 200 citations to drivers last year. Authority officials estimate there were 5.6 million trips between the airport and Strip resorts during that time frame.
But some critics say the practice is even more rampant because customers who have been cheated are more interested in getting to their destination and don’t want to spend the time filling out the complaint paperwork.
Walker, who has a small enforcement staff, is considering stiffer penalties for drivers caught long-hauling — $500 for the first offense, $1,000 and a suspension for the second and a driver termination for the third.
He said the Taxicab Authority is working on a computerized flagging system that would prevent drivers caught long-hauling from getting licensed for a job at another company.
Drivers also recommended that the cab companies share the responsibility and be disciplined when long-hauling occurs.
If a flat rate isn’t adopted, Walker said, efforts are being made to educate tourists about how much a typical cab ride should cost so they can file a complaint if they feel they have been cheated. He said approximate fares would be posted at the airport and at some resorts.
Typical fares from the airport to the Strip, without wait time, run from $13.26 to the Tropicana to $16.33 to the Sahara. Fares to downtown Las Vegas properties average about $21.33 a trip.
Yellow Checker Star’s Schwartz also proposed posting a rate card in the rear seat of every taxi. His “passenger bill of rights” suggests listing that a driver is not permitted to take a longer route unless specifically requested to do so by the passenger, that passengers should expect a safe and courteous driver who obeys all traffic laws, clean air and a smoke-free environment, and a driver who doesn’t use a cell phone while driving.
The posting also says air conditioning or heat and a receipt should be provided upon request, that any passenger 18 or older should use a seatbelt and that passengers should use curbside doors when exiting a cab.
The posting also would include a lost-and-found telephone number and address of the cab company as well as the number of the Taxicab Authority.