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Taxi trip numbers suggest increase in tourist visits

Maybe the light at the end of the tunnel is coming from taxis carrying tourists who deplaned at McCarran International Airport.

Statistics compiled by the Nevada Taxicab Authority, which regulates cabs only in Clark County, show a big increase in taxi trips for March and the for first three months of 2011.

The Nevada Taxicab Authority reports that monthly trips increased by 8.4 percent in March over the same month last year. The number of trips increased 7.15 percent to 6.8 million for the first three months.

Jason Awad, owner of Lucky Cab Co., said the data are another sign that the Las Vegas economy is recovering.

"It’s a substantial increase from the recession numbers," Awad said. "We are gradually coming out of (the recession)."

March was one of the best months ever for the taxi industry, he said.

A large number of taxi trips are in the "Golden Triangle" — McCarran International Airport, the Strip and downtown Las Vegas, he said. So this suggests that tourism, the key sector in Southern Nevada’s economy, is coming back.

The number of taxi trips peaked in 2007 at 26.6 million, Elisabeth Daniels, an authority spokeswoman, said in an email.

"If you extrapolate the data we have so far for 2011, we seem to be approaching a return to prerecession numbers for the number of taxi trips," Daniels said.

The trend for taxi data is consistent with other economic indicators, said Stephen Brown, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

"Volume is up. Activity on the Strip is up, and convention activity is up," Brown said. "Employment is up, and all of these things indicate that we’re at the beginning of a recovery."

The center’s business surveys suggest a positive outlook for the second quarter, following a favorable outlook for the first quarter.

"It’s been bleak for a long time," Brown said. "There are people who don’t think it’s turning around."

These kind of numbers would have been considered terrible had they been recorded during the boom days of 2005, he said.

Contact reporter John G. Edwards at jedwards@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0420.

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