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Taxi board OKs flat rates on rides from McCarran to Las Vegas Strip

Updated September 26, 2019 - 12:25 pm

The taxicab industry will set flat rates for rides between Las Vegas’ airport and the resort corridor, part of an effort to fall in line with ride-hailing services and ease passenger worries about being nickel-and-dimed.

The Nevada Taxicab Authority board unanimously voted Thursday to set up a six-month pilot program, set to begin Jan. 1, breaking the Las Vegas Strip into three zones for rides between McCarran International Airport and resort properties.

— Zone 1: Sunset Road north to Tropicana Avenue: $19.

— Zone 2: Tropicana north to Flamingo Road: $23.

— Zone 3: Flamingo north to the Strat: $27.

The set fares were determined using the average fares — with those under $10 and over $50 excluded — to and from various resorts and McCarran.

The move comes as taxicab ridership continues to drop with the emergence of ride-hailing companies and the reputation the taxi industry has for some drivers “long hauling” passengers.

The zones cover outlying properties including The Orleans, Hard Rock Hotel and the Palms.

Nearly all of the representatives from the 16 taxicab companies that serve Southern Nevada agreed the three-zone approach would be best.

After being skeptical of going to a zoned approach, Whittlesea-Bell Transportation CEO Brent Bell said the time is now for an overhaul of the cab system.

“The more we talked, the more I became a believer in this transparency we’re trying to achieve here,” Bell said. “I was in the minority; I was even in the minority in my own company …”

Bell went on to say the taxi industry didn’t attempt such a measure before because the technology wasn’t available.

Representatives of Nellis Cab were the lone speakers opposing the three-zone choice, as they believed having one flat fee was the way to go.

Director of Operations Jamie Pino said Nellis Cab also was worried about zone manipulation.

“The more zones that you have, the more ways you give drivers to manipulate the zones,” Pino said. “It should be one zone.”

The main worry on the flat-rate, one-zone plan would be trips that were on the short side would cost the customer too much, while those on the longer side would cost the operator money.

Pino didn’t believe that would be an issue, saying those trips would average each other out in the long run.

With 84 percent of passengers originating from McCarran going to the resort corridor, testing the set price program in the area made sense, according to Scott Whittemore, taxicab authority administrator.

If the pilot proves successful, other areas, like downtown Las Vegas and the Boulder Strip, could be included.

In 2015, the last full year before ride-hailing options were approved for Nevada, 27.3 million rides were provided by the 16 Southern Nevada cab companies. In 2018, taxi rides given in the Las Vegas area were down 37.5 percent compared with 2015, to 17.2 million trips.

Monthly trips continue to decline, with the industry seeing a 13.1 percent year-over-year dip in May, according to the latest taxicab authority records available.

‘Long hauls’ targeted

A trip from the airport to the Westgate near Paradise Road and Sahara Avenue could cost as much as $48 if a taxicab driver took a longer-than-needed route, according to the authority. Using the zoned approach, the rider would pay $27.

The taxicab authority keeps a long-hauling database and has given out 3,300 citations since 2013 to drivers.

Plans to increase penalties to drivers who “long haul” also are included in Thursday’s moves, with up to a $500 fine for a first offense, suspension or possible revocation of one’s license for a second offense, and a third offense resulting in automatic revocation of a license.

With the set fares not being subject to price surges that ride-hailing providers often practice during high-capacity time, the new system will help set the taxicab industry apart from the transportation network companies, said taxicab authority board chairman Stan Olsen.

“There are no surge charges, and to me surge charges are nothing more than unregulated long hauling,” Olsen said. “(The zoned approach is) a more fair and level playing field.”

The authority will look at dedicating 10 cents from each ride to a marketing fund, aimed at advertising the new program at McCarran. It wasn’t immediately known if that move would be within the board’s power.

Nonetheless, some advertising will be key in order for the new program to take off, according to authority board member Vicki Holmes.

“The three-zone format seems to be the most fair for both the public and for the drivers,” Holmes said. “Marketing is key … and should involved a campaign like, ‘It’s a new decade or new era for the taxicab business.’”

Contact Mick Akers at makers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2920. Follow @mickakers on Twitter.

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