Don Jones

Tech | Career | Musings

Not long ago, Uber tried to launch in Las Vegas. We (I live here, so I count myself in the “we”) marshaled a nearly unparalleled, near-military effort to stop them. I was, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, initially very anti-Uber. Who the heck were they, to sail in with their billions in the bank, acting like an underdog and breaking our laws?

I’ve changed my mind, and I’ll tell you why.

Taxicabs in Vegas, especially those in the tourist sector, are almost universally horrible. And I don’t just mean bad drivers, because that goes without saying. They’re practically evil. 

  • Drivers have a pernicious habit of “long hauling” passengers. This is such a thing, the term long hauling, should you punch it into a search engine, will return almost100% Las Vegas-related results. Rather than taking passengers from the airport the short way, they’ll haul them around the airport on the Interstate, jacking their fare. The drivers claim the taxi companies’ rules about average fares forces them to do so, which is BS. We’ve got, like, two whole cab inspectors, so we catch single-digit percentages of the offenders.
  • Drivers also accept kickbacks from businesses. Tell a cabbie to take you to “a good steakhouse,” and you’re going to the one that offers him the most cash-in-hand. This is such a thing that some businesses even advertise it – there’s a tour company just outside the airport whose sign specifically says, “taxi friendly – we pay cash.” Anyway, these bribes happen at restaurants, strip clubs, nightclubs, tour companies, everything. There’ve even been lawsuits, although the complaint against  the cab companies was dropped.
  • Cab companies (for the most part; Frias is an exception because he’s invented the system) and drivers rail against the idea of any in-cab GPS monitoring that would help improve customer service, prevent long-hauling, etc. Even our taxi commission resists these things, which are SOP in many places.
  • Drivers threaten strikes any time we try to make any kind of substantive improvement. More bus loops at the Convention Center? Strike. Monorail with a decent route? Strike. Monorail to the airport? Strike – despite legendary lines for cabs at the airport that clearly suggest some business would remain. Now, none of these strikes every happened – but there were threats, and they had an impact on policymaking.

For all this, we protect the industry vigorously.

  • We limit the number of medallions that allow cabs to pick-up at the airport or on the Strip. So we protect their jobs, and limit the ability of market forces to have any positive effect.
  • We set generous fares.
  • We practically launched SWAT teams at Uber drivers as they tried to spin up service. Oh wait, not practically. We actually did this. OK, not a SWAT team, but masked bandits
  • Our police routinely overlook fairly horrible driving practices from cabs, helping keep our roads more dangerous and interesting. This is from extensive personal experience.

We have failed, in almost every way, shape, and form, to protect the public’s interest. Ironically, a taxi’s license is called a CPCN – a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity – and of those words, only “Certificate” is really valid. Uber is currently fighting in court to get the Vegas market opened up, but they’re having a hell of a time of it.

Why?

Well, mainly because politicians are answerable to their constituents, and their constituencies do not include tourists. Locally, the taxi problem is “someone else’s problem,” because we all either have cars, or we use the public bus system. Mainly, we have cars. So we only use taxis when we need a ride to the airport, and for the most part the companies who don’t pick up on-Strip aren’t as corrupt. And, as a local, you know if you’re being long-hauled, obviously, and you’re not looking for a restaurant recommendation, so the opportunities for fraud are much lower.

So unless market forces in the form of actual competition can prevail, the situation doesn’t get fixed because, locally, we’ve got no will to do so.

Completely sucks, and if you’re coming to visit, all I can say is, “avoid the taxis.” Look for shuttle services, or at least map your route well ahead of time so that you can tell the cabbie, “uh, hey, you’re totally not getting paid here, and feel free to call a cop for long-hauling me.” And don’t ask for restaurant recommendations.

3 thoughts on “My Vegas Uber-Taxi Rant

  1. We actually have similar issues in Toronto. As a matter of fact, the city has directed the police department to conduct sting operations where they call for an Uber, get taken a certain distance, and then fine the driver.

    My first experience with Uber was in Seattle actually, during last year’s TechMentor conference. I was really amazed at how clean and new the cars were, and every driver was friendly. I really enjoyed the experience.

    Experiences with taxis in Toronto are not as friendly. One actually recently rolled up my window without asking or checking to see if my hand might’ve been outside of it. It was. I guess for our own safety we should follow roller coaster rules. Actually, it wouldn’t be a bad idea if they installed those roller coaster harnesses in cabs either…

    I’ve played tourist in Las Vegas, and attended as media during CES. Yeah. I could lend you a few experiences as a visitor.

  2. Don, I experienced this in Vegas recently. It’s so corrupt its sad.

  3. vincep1974 says:

    I live in Chicago and have ZERO sympathy for cab drivers. I live in Bridgeport, a neighborhood on the near South Side, where the White Sox play baseball. Can’t tell you how many times I called a cab company for a ride and then waited hours for a cab to show up. From what I understand, sometime in the 1970s, cab drivers won the right to decide for themselves who they will pick up, that dispatch cannot force or direct any cab to pick up someone. So I have to wait and wait and wait for some cab driver somewhere to decide to pick me up. And the cab company is powerless to do anything about it. Sorry, I don’t care. I need to be picked up. Uber will pick me up. I get so annoyed with politicians who grandstand and say nonsense like “Uber is for the rich”. I AM NOT RICH. I live in a neighborhood bordering on the vast ghetto that these politicians nurture It’s because of the rules these politicians put in place gave the cab drivers the right to ignore my need for a ride that I need to use Uber.

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