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Small Nevada limo companies push bill to ease fleet expansion

CARSON CITY — Uber versus the taxi industry isn’t the only transportation fight under way in the Nevada Legislature this session.

Several small limousine companies are pushing a bill that they say would allow them to increase their fleets without unfair interference by the big taxi and limo company operators such as Bell Trans and other members of the Livery Operators Association of Las Vegas.

Senate Bill 183 would allow the companies to go to the Nevada Transportation Authority and seek to increase their fleets without having to fend off challenges from the large companies based on competitive concerns.

Current law says the transportation authority can base decisions on factors that would “tend to increase or create detrimental competition in motor transportation.”

The bill would delete this provision.

But the companies fear that the push to allow Uber and other ride-sharing companies to operate in Nevada could be their undoing.

They say the big taxi and limousine companies are lobbying lawmakers against their bill, arguing that if Uber and others are approved to operate in Nevada and compete against them, SB183 needs to be killed.

SB183 passed the Senate on a unanimous vote but is awaiting final action in the Assembly. The bill was moved to today, the deadline for passage, or the measure will die.

Danell Wilson-Perlman, owner of Reno-Tahoe Limousine, said her business has been forced to stay at seven vehicles because the big companies can challenge her efforts to add more cars based on the competitive grounds allowed in the current law. SB183 would allow challenges based only on safety issues.

The big taxi companies were grandfathered in and can add new limousines at will, Wilson-Perlman said. But the newer, smaller companies have to get approval from the transportation authority. The process is thwarting their efforts to grow and compete, she said.

Ron Perlman, co-owner of Reno-Tahoe Limousine, said the company has lost more than $45,000 a year for the past three years because they cannot add more cars to contract to serve the weeklong American Century Celebrity Golf Championship held at Lake Tahoe each summer.

Lou Castro, president of the small operators group called the Nevada Bus & Limousine Association, and owner of Earth Limos in Las Vegas, said he is limited to 14 limousines under his license because of the anti-competitive language in the current law.

Big conventions like CES end up contracting with California limousine companies because Castro said he can’t add more vehicles, so the money goes out of state instead of to local businesses.

Castro said the big taxi industry has made it clear that if Assembly Bill 175 passes letting Uber and other companies operate in Nevada, they want SB183 killed in exchange.

Sen. Scott Hammond, R-Las Vegas, who worked on the bill and supports the change to promote competition and growth in the industry, agreed that the Uber issue is in play with SB183. Big taxi companies don’t want to see competition increase both from Uber and the smaller limousine operators, he said.

But Hammond declined to speculate on whether SB183 would make it out of the Assembly.

The Livery Operators Association could not immediately be reached for comment.

Castro said the issue is about competition and a level playing field.

“At the end of the day, what kind of message are we putting out to small businesses that want to come to the state of Nevada?” he said. “What kind of message are we sending out to existing small businesses?”

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900. Follow @seanw801 on Twitter.

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