While bargaining for lesser fines for traffic tickets is an everyday event for the general public, that option has disappeared for taxi drivers caught long hauling, or running up the tab on unsuspecting tourists.
As part of the tougher enforcement stance in recent weeks, Nevada Taxicab Authority officials have stopped settling citations for less than the statutory penalties, which range from $100 for the first offense to $350 for the fourth.
They have also started to recommend that hearing officers suspend taxi licenses for three to 10 days starting with the second offense.
A fifth offense can lead to license revocation.
"We know we won't stop long hauling completely," authority administrator Charles Harvey said. "But we want to send a message to create a deterrent."
Long hauling, Las Vegas-style, involves carrying passengers between the Strip and McCarran International Airport via a roundabout route that includes the Las Vegas Beltway. This can boost a typical $16 fare to $26 or more, depending on how far the detour stretches.
Although long hauling has plagued visitors for more than a decade, many people in the industry believe the practice has become more prevalent in the recent past. In the absence of hard numbers, drivers estimate that at least a third and perhaps more than half of the trips involve excess mileage.
The issue probably will resurface Sept. 24, as the authority board considers granting taxi companies more permanent medallions, the permits that must accompany cabs in operation. Drivers contend that new medallions granted last year put too many cabs on the streets, diluting their income under a revenue-sharing system used by companies and drivers in Las Vegas and prompting some to long haul to make up the difference.
Cab company owners contend that more cabs improve service and boost their competitiveness against other forms of transportation, such as shuttle vans and limos.
Besides the stiffer penalties, the authority also has instituted random checks of cabs leaving the airport via the under-runway tunnel to the Beltway. The checks started prior to the Electric Daisy Carnival music festival in June and are now a weekly event at sporadic intervals, Harvey said.
It's hard to gauge the crackdown's effect, but Harvey said passenger complaints filed with the authority have declined while 530 citations were written in June - more than double the 260 in May.
Others say the impact is minor, at best. While saying he supports the stepped-up enforcement, veteran driver Stephen Lenett said he doesn't think drivers will change their ways.
"The problem is so enormous that it's like swatting a few flies off an elephant," said Lenett, with Whittlesea Blue Cab/Henderson Taxi. "The elephant doesn't know they are there because it is so large."
Sam Moffitt, a driver with Yellow Cab and a steward with the Industrial Technical Professional Employees Union, said, "If you want to stop long hauling, then fine the companies the same amounts as the drivers and long hauling will end immediately."
To do that, Harvey said, Nevada law requires that the authority prove that a taxi company was complicit in long hauling.
"So far, we have not been able to prove up a case," he said.
Although less visible than the other measures, Harvey said, training curriculum for both staff and drivers is being revised to play up long hauling. Further, he said, the authority's enforcement arm now puts more emphasis on halting long hauling, although it has only 21 officers and is coping with eight vacant positions. That forces the authority to pay less attention to other areas.
The changing priorities are part of making the authority more flexible in it operations.
"Traditionally, we used to react," he said. "We are looking to become more creative. We recognize this is a tremendous challenge and we need to utilize all the resources at our disposal."
Contact reporter Tim O'Reiley at email@example.com or 702-387-5290.