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Taxicab Authority faces devastating audit

It’s going to take some time for the dust to settle on last week’s explosive audit findings that Southern Nevada taxi companies took advantage of their customers to the tune of $47 million in unnecessary fuel surcharges and overpriced credit-card fees.

We may get an idea on how that will shake out this week when the Nevada Taxicab Authority meets for the first time since the audit findings were announced.

Will authority board members accept responsibility for approving some of the measures that led to fuel surcharges that were in place even after the price of gasoline dipped below $3.25 a gallon, the threshold for adding the charge?

Will they take the blame for enabling a credit-card fee of $3 per transaction, though there apparently was no research justifying the cost? Auditors say the companies could break even on the cost if the fee were 90 cents, but cab company execs say if the fee is ordered to 90 cents, the technology would go away because the companies wouldn’t be able to afford to keep it.

What about the finding that the agency’s enforcement officers were cultivating a law enforcement culture when a regulatory environment was expected? Were board members active in that decision, or was it staff direction that led to that culture shift?

Will Gov. Brian Sandoval remove one or more members of the board for failing to attend the Audit Committee meeting, which was teleconferenced last Tuesday between Carson City and Las Vegas? It’s clear he wasn’t happy that board members dissed him and his committee when the findings were released.

Will board members be compliant? Or will they be defiant?

How it shakes out may help define how many of us get around in the Las Vegas Valley in the years ahead. While most of us road warriors have our own vehicles, thousands depend on buses, shuttles and, yes, taxis to get around for trips to the grocery store or the doctor’s office.

Many cabdrivers I know have steady local customers they drive from place to place. And, like it or not, cabdrivers often are the first point of contact visitors have with our community, so they serve an important role as tourism ambassadors for Las Vegas.

In addition, all of us share the roads with cabbies, and the last thing most of us want to see when merging onto Interstate 15 is a grumpy cabdriver speeding in the right-hand travel lane.

We may learn a few more things when the board gathers.

One of the audit recommendations is to scrap the Taxicab Authority and turn its regulatory responsibilities over to either the Nevada Transportation Authority or a county board. Both ideas have merit.

The Transportation Authority already oversees taxis in every county except Clark, so it’s equipped to handle the regulatory issues. Clark County also could take it on. County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak once sat on the Taxicab Authority board and understands the issues it faces. Besides, the current Taxicab Authority oversees only the 16 cab companies operating in Clark County, so it seems appropriate that the county take it on — as long as it’s funded to do so.

But placing local cab oversight in the Transportation Authority’s hands may make the most sense because that has been a position many transportation leaders have advocated since that state agency was formed more than a decade ago as the Transportation Services Authority.

In addition to monitoring taxis, the Transportation Authority has jurisdiction over ride-hailing companies — entities the Taxicab Authority can’t touch. But it has been clear for the past year that the Taxicab Authority approved measures that would make it easier for the cab companies to compete with Uber and Lyft. Members did so wanting to keep the cab industry strong against the ride-hailing invaders, and they viewed that as leveling the playing field in an environment that seemed tilted toward ride-hailing and its sparkling smartphone application technology.

What transportation regulators didn’t count on was that along with the sparkle of the technology came the hubris of the companies, and everybody had to deal with company executives who took every opportunity they could to tell Nevada leaders how old school and backward they were.

A few more questions: If a decision is reached to scrap the Taxicab Authority — and there could be movement in that direction as early as next month — what happens to the dozens of employees that work for the agency? That’s an issue Taxicab Authority Administrator Ronald Grogan, who has been on the job less than four months, began addressing last week when the audit story hit.

What will the five authority board members do? These aren’t exactly get-rich positions with members statutorily allowed to be paid a maximum of $80 a day for each day they conduct board business. Is the job worth the aggravation?

It’s almost time for anybody who cares about the cab industry to buckle their seat belts for this trip. Who says you have to actually get in a car to go on a wild ride?

— Questions and comments should be sent to roadwarrior@reviewjournal.com. Please include your phone number. Follow the Road Warrior on Twitter @RJroadwarrior

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