Published Tuesday, April 27, 2021 | 2 a.m.
Updated Friday, April 30, 2021 | 9:14 a.m.
As the coronavirus pandemic gripped Las Vegas last year, nearly every aspect of the travel and tourism industry was impacted, from hotels to casinos, nightclubs and airlines.
Las Vegas’ taxi companies did not escape unscathed, as the virus shut down the Las Vegas Strip for more than two months starting in mid-March 2020.
In January 2020, before the pandemic, taxis in Las Vegas provided some 1.3 million rides. By that May, the number had plummeted to just 18,000.
“Nobody was going anywhere,” said Stan Olsen, chairman of the Nevada Taxicab Authority.
Olsen recently answered some questions about the impact of the pandemic, which he called the “most devastating” crisis the industry has ever faced. Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.
What kind of impact has the pandemic had on the taxi industry and how long will it take for it to fully recover?
The impact on the taxi industry is equal to the impact on the gaming community. This drove them all into the ground for a while, and they're trying to recover. The cab industry, like the hotels, were trying different things to make ends meet.
So the cab industry is slowly recovering, as is the hotel industry. And I think both of them are going to take, I'd say, upwards of five years to completely recover as they were prior to the pandemic.
How does the impact of the pandemic compare to other challenging times the taxi industry has faced in Las Vegas?
It's been the single most devastating impact the cab industry has ever faced. When the economy went down in 2008, people still came to Vegas, maybe not in the same numbers, but they still came.
People still were able to move from point A to point B as needed, whether they be locals or tourists, and the vast majority of them were using cabs. With the pandemic, it just virtually put everything at a dead stop.
What role did the Taxicab Authority have in establishing and enforcing coronavirus safety protocols for cabs, drivers and passengers?
The Taxi Authority has almost full authority to expand and identify ways to ensure safety. We mandated that drivers had to wear a mask — period, no excuses, no exemptions.
And then we moved forward again when it started getting worse and we mandated that passengers had to be masked up or they couldn't get a ride.
So we mandate what the driver can and can't do, over and above what is existing state law, and we can tighten up those as needed and we did. COVID's a good example of that.
What have the biggest challenges been for taxi companies and regulators operating amid the pandemic?
Even before the pandemic, it is illegal operators — people that advertise on Craigslist or drive up and try to get somebody to ride on a cash basis, or the Ubers and Lyfts that operate off an app, which is illegal. We have — working with the NTA (Nevada Transportation Authority) — a very robust enforcement operation for that. When they're captured, they're arrested, their vehicles are impounded.
Anything you would like to add?
The riding public, whether they be tourists or locals, need to know that you cannot get a safer ride than in a cab.
We encourage people if you feel you have a problem with a driver, you notify the Taxi Authority, and it will be looked into. And we've had situations where we've looked into it and the driver was reprimanded by the Taxi Authority. The company has their own way of dealing with it, and they will deal with it also.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the name of the Nevada Transportation Authority. | (April 30, 2021)