Nine companies get OK to charge for Ride Genie

Nine transportation companies that offer limousine service in Southern Nevada were granted modifications to their tariffs from regulators to charge customers additional fees when they use the new Ride Genie smartphone application.

Critics say the charges for using the app are the highest of any market in the United States.

The Nevada Transportation Authority, which regulates the operation of limousines and buses in Nevada, unanimously approved the revised tariffs at its monthly meeting Tuesday.

Authority Chairman Andrew MacKay said more companies are lining up to get similar approvals and he predicted the agency would get even busier through the end of the year as more tech companies deliver similar apps that limousine and taxi operators will be interested in trying.

The app, produced by Las Vegas-based Integrity Vehicle Solutions, was publicly introduced last week. The authority had granted a temporary tariff through Integrity to enable companies to use the app until they received their own tariff modifications.

The app can be downloaded for free from the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store. Customers must fill out a registration form, which includes providing a credit card or Pay Pal account number for ride payments.

Customers generally pay the same hourly or contract rate for rides, but if it’s arranged with the app, there would be a fee for the app’s use as well as a credit-card processing fee.

Tariffs approved Tuesday are $1 to $2 more per hour than standard rates when using the app. For example, for Presidential Limousine, vehicles with a passenger capacity of eight, including the driver, in a standard sport utility vehicle is $55 for the first hour and $27.50 per subsequent half hour or less.

The rate on a tariff approved in October 2013 is $53 and $26.50 per subsequent half hour.

The nine companies receiving approval were Las Vegas Limousine; Presidential Limousine; Bell Trans, doing business as Bell Trans and Bell Limousine; On Demand Sedan Services doing business as AAA ODS Limousine, ODS Limousine, ODS Chauffeured Transportation and On Demand Sedan &Limousine; Desert Cab, doing business as Odyssey Limousine; AWG Ambassador Limousine; AWG Charter Services; Western Limousine Service; and Jacob Transportation Services doing business as Executive Las Vegas.

Critics who spoke in a public comment period during the meeting warned that the rates would be detrimental to the public.

Jack Bond, who plans to unveil a competing transportation app in late 2014, reiterated comments he made at a public workshop meeting last week that the fees to use the app are excessive.

Bond estimated that once Ride Genie is rolled out to summon taxi rides — which Integrity officials expect to happen within weeks — companies would collect an estimated $400 million a year in fees based on 27 million annual taxi rides in Southern Nevada.

Bond estimated that it would only cost about $1,000 a year to track Southern Nevada’s taxi fleet.

“Adding a $5 fee on top of a $75 limousine ride is excessive,” Bond said.

He added that he thinks the public would perceive approval of the app fees as corruption within the industry because the authority essentially gave the companies what they wanted.

MacKay said the staff analysis of the app charges don’t take pricing in other jurisdictions into consideration. Instead, specialty charges are viewed from the perspective of the dollar amount as a percentage of the overall cost and the fees proposed by the industry were within the range of rates for other ancillary services.

“The way we look at it is this is a totally optional service,” MacKay said. “A customer doesn’t have to pay for it if he doesn’t want it.”

MacKay also said he expects rates to change as more competition reaches the market.

One of the competitors local transportation companies is awaiting is popular ride sharing company Uber.

The San Francisco-based company uses an app similar to Ride Genie’s to link its contracted drivers with people who request a ride with the smartphone app.

Uber made other headlines Tuesday with CEO Travis Kalanick announcing that former Obama administration adviser and campaign manager David Plouffe has joined the company as senior vice president of policy and strategy, overseeing all global policy and political activities, communications and Uber branding efforts.

Contact reporter Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow him on Twitter @RickVelotta.