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[Neon Eden]

Trying to nab cabbies who long-haul fares isn’t easy

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

I took a couple cab rides last weekend and didn’t get “long-hauled” either time. That’s the good news. The bad news? I may have just gotten lucky when the drivers took me the cheapest, most direct route to my destination rather than giving me an unrequested tour of the Valley.

Ruben Aquino, 45, the new chief of enforcement for the Taxicab Authority, recently conducted a sting operation and went on three rides from the airport to the Strip. He was long-hauled twice, with the rides costing $6 to $10 more than they should have. On his third ride, the driver helpfully provided some unsolicited tips: Never say this is your first time in Vegas, and don’t let them take you through the tunnel—the airport connector to the 215—that amounts to money stolen from you and put in the pocket of cab companies and drivers. (There were other tips involving gentleman’s clubs, but, moving on ...)

Aquino and Charles Harvey, the Authority’s new administrator, seem intent on doing something about this, and they should. This kind of nickel and diming irritates visitors and reflects badly on Las Vegas. (In fairness, customers ranked our cab industry the best in the country, according to a Hotels.com survey, though long-hauling was a common complaint.)

Last week, Aquino and I drove to the airport and checked out what’s called “the pit,” the area where hundreds of cabs are waiting in the queue. There you can see the motivation to long-haul: Sometimes drivers wait a couple hours, and if the passenger is only going to the MGM, it’s hardly worth it. The Authority has just 25 officers, plus a few more at the airport, and considering that in 2010 there were more than 25 million taxi trips and that, at any given time, there are roughly 2,000 cabs on the roads, catching the long-haul thieves isn’t easy. A driver can tell a half-truth and convince a passenger that the tunnel will be faster because of Strip traffic, and he might even be right. If the passenger approves the trip, the driver is in the clear.

Aquino points out what a long shot it can be to nab a long-hauler: Let’s say a customer gets long-hauled from the Strip to the airport. And let’s say the passenger has the presence of mind to get the driver’s name, the company name and medallion number. Then, once back home, he registers a complaint, as 398 people did in 2010, resulting in 184 citations. Investigators will send the passenger a photo lineup with an affidavit, which he has to have notarized. All that for $20? Why bother?

So the Taxicab Authority is considering preventive marketing, including notices on the seat backs that inform passengers roughly how much their ride should cost. Then there’s the flat rate. In New York City, Manhattan to Kennedy Airport is $45 plus tolls. Nothing more, nothing less.

The Taxi Commission heard a similar proposal for Las Vegas last year, though the flat fee would be just $20. The industry opposed it, and it died, despite that total being higher than many airport-to-Strip fares. My colleague Rick Velotta broke down the cost of the average ride from McCarran to Wynn Las Vegas: Automatic cost of hiring the cab: $3.30. “Airport fee”: $1.80. Based on a 4.06-mile trip, the meter cost would be $9.74—a total of $14.84. Add an extra $2 for “wait time”—four minutes in traffic—and the cost is $16.84. Perhaps the actual traffic is heavier, and so a trip to the Wynn could cost more than $20, but consider that the Wynn is about as far north as a passenger is going these days, and it’s curious the industry would oppose a flat rate that would seem to mean more money.

Unless of course long-hauling is happening more regularly than we realize ...

J. Patrick Coolican is a columnist for the Las Vegas Sun. Follow him on Twitter @jpcoolican or email him at patrick.coolican@lasvegassun.com. His Neon Eden radio show airs Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m. on 91.5 FM.
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