With the local taxi companies all reporting better results in this year, the Nevada Taxicab Authority on Tuesday granted the first new permanent medallions since 2007.
In doing so, the authority's four-member board adopted a middle ground between drivers, about 200 of who turned out at Tuesday's meeting to oppose any increase, and market leader Frias Transportation Management, which wanted 20 new around-the-clock medallions per company. By extending hours of some part-time medallions and adding a mix of part- and full-time ones, the authority effectively granted each company about 12 full-time ones.
The medallion, a piece of stamped metal, acts as a permit that controls how many how many taxis can be on the streets of Las Vegas at any moment. The 16 taxi companies now hold the equivalent of 1,858 full-time medallions, so the board's action boosted the number by 6.9 percent.
"It is greed, pure greed by the companies," said driver Ashenaafi Saed. "If they are saying there will be more visitors, then they must have a magic crystal ball saying Vegas will be flooded by tourists."
But several taxi company leaders took turns laying out statistical arguments that an upswing in demand, particularly on weekends, justifies boosting their fleets.
Frias showed a video taken in the late afternoon on Aug. 1, when dozens of Mandalay Bay guests lined up to leave but with no cabs in sight.
"I think this is a wonderful move," A Cab owner Joe Nady said of the board's action. "This means the public will be much better served."
Even though his territory covers locals west of Interstate 15 and not the Strip, he said additional cabs would reduce response times.
Frias co-owner Mark James called the lower-than-requested number "bad news" because the company, which owns five cab companies, was posting its highest numbers ever. However, company officials said they would not appeal, as they did last year when their request for more medallions was denied.
To a large degree, the five-hour authority meeting came down to a duel between PowerPoints and street cred. While the owners piled up charts and graphs to make a business case for more cabs, the drivers argued that the diluted income would make it harder for them to make ends meet.
Driver Dwaine Davis calculated that his pay amounted to about $7.25 an hour, spread over 12-hour shifts six days a week, even with tips. With the new medallions, he said, "There's going to be trouble because the pay will go so low that a lot of drivers will quit," he said.
Authority financial analyst Brock Croy noted that taxi ridership was just now returning to the level of four years ago, when the last batch of permanent medallions where issued. However, cab companies come to the authority monthly for temporary medallions to cover expected visitor surges for big events.
From 26.6 million trips in 2007, the total dropped to 23.7 million two years later before beginning to rebound in the latter part of 2010. This year, ridership is on track to approach the peak. The overall trend led staff to recommend no new full-time medallions, and only three to five for weekends only.
But the cab companies rallied behind a proposal floated by Nellis Cab that included three components:
■ Extending the current Friday at 2 p.m. to Sunday at 2 p.m. hours for the 11 weekend medallions allocated to each company to Thursday at noon to Monday at 2 p.m.
■ Adding six more weekend medallions at the longer hours.
■ Granting six more full-time medallions at the rate of one a month starting in September.
"The idea is to be proactive and have steady growth," Desert Cab owner George Balaban said.
Other statistics show the number of trips running nearly 50 percent higher on Saturdays than Monday through Wednesday, with other days covered by the weekend medallions also busier than average.
Authority directors were particularly swayed by these numbers, although director Joe Hardy Jr. did not favor the added full-time medallions.
Contact reporter Tim O'Reiley at email@example.com or 702-387-5290.