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.
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.