Protectionism prevails

Let's say you own a bakery next to a local church. You find out NFL quarterback Tim Tebow will give a speech at the church in a few weeks, and that his appearance is expected to bring many thousands of people past your storefront during breakfast hours. Of course, you immediately begin planning to bake your buns off and have your entire staff on hand that morning to prepare and sell your goods.

But before you can proceed, you must first appear before the state Baking Board to obtain a permit to increase output and have more employees on the clock. And during your hearing, your competitors fill the board's chambers to complain that your planned response to an anticipated spike in demand could deprive them of sales. As a result, the board rejects your request. You'll have to be content with offering a limited menu to long lines of unhappy customers.

Such a scenario sounds absurd -- until you realize a similar story played out within a different industry just this week.

Welcome to the follies of the Nevada Taxicab Authority.

On Monday, the authority rejected the requests of several companies to dispatch six to 12 additional taxicabs during the National Association of Broadcasters convention, which starts Saturday in Las Vegas. Attendance at the four-day conference is expected to top 100,000, making it one of the city's best-attended and most economically important special events. The convention routinely leads to long lines for cabs at McCarran International Airport, hotels and the Las Vegas Convention Center.

More than 200 cabdrivers attended the meeting, waving signs that read "No more cabs!" Putting a few more cabs on the streets at certain hours could limit their income by cutting into their passenger counts. Companies, meanwhile, told the board they were trying to proactively respond to properties' pleas for more cabs so visitors have more time to spend money and less time waiting for a ride.

The companies' request died because the authority board deadlocked, 2-2. Board member Joshua Miller could have decided the issue but left halfway through the meeting for an appointment, Chairwoman Ileana Drobkin said. Which raises the question of why Mr. Miller is on the board at all if he can't be troubled to hang around for an important vote.

So, thanks to the tie, protectionism carried the day.

It's ridiculous that the managers of these cab companies are unable to respond to business and market realities without first running to a regulatory board. Proponents of the Taxicab Authority argue it serves an important function in ensuring visitors here avoid shakedowns by rogue cabbies. But Monday's action is just as likely to leave more than a few convention-goers caught in long cab queues and frustrated with their Las Vegas experience.


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