Panel suggests Nevada Taxicab Authority be merged with larger agency

In the wake of a scathing audit alleging Clark County’s taxi passengers paid excessive fees, a legislative subcommittee on Thursday recommended that the agency regulating Southern Nevada’s taxicab industry be merged with the larger Nevada Transportation Authority to create a new statewide oversight department.

The state Legislature could decide the matter during the next legislative session, set to begin in February.

The move comes after the Executive Branch Audit Committee determined in January that taxi riders were overcharged $47 million annually, and recommended that the Nevada Taxicab Authority be folded under the authority of the Nevada Transportation Authority, which regulates ride-sharing companies, taxis and limos throughout the rest of the state.

“I personally think something has got to change because, so far, this is not working,” said state Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, chairman of the Sunset Subcommittee of the Legislative Commission, which recommends which state oversight boards should be modified, combined, dissolved or continue to operate.

Settelmeyer said details will be worked out as the proposal makes it way through the state Legislature.

Four members of the Sunset Subcommittee voted in favor of the merger. State Sen. David Parks abstained from voting, saying the issue should be studied further.

Assemblyman Glenn Trowbridge, R-Las Vegas, cast the lone vote against the proposal, saying the Taxicab Authority’s new chairman, former Metropolitan Police Department Lt. Stan Olsen, should be given some time to reform the agency. Olden took over in March, when Ileana Drobkin resigned as head.

“I think we would be jumping the gun if we would not allow those individuals to exercise their expertise and willingness to address the issues and give them a fair period of time,” Trowbridge said.

Teri Williams, spokeswoman for the state Department of Business and Industry, which oversees both the Nevada Taxicab Authority and the Nevada Transportation Authority, declined comment.

Prior to the panel’s vote, Jeremy Aguero of Las Vegas-based Applied Analysis presented a report saying that the state’s critical audit of the Taxicab Authority was overstated, and that a fuel surcharge, a $3 credit card fee and other fees were properly applied.

The state audit said a $3 fee for using credit cards led to additional income amounting to $14.2 million to $20.3 million annually for cab companies. The audit recommended the fee should be reduced to 90 cents or eliminated.

Aguero said he found that other cities nationwide tag on “miscellaneous fees” that could drive up costs, such as additional passengers, hauling oversized suitcases and calling dispatchers to request a cab.

Taxi fares jumped 20 cents for nearly 12 weeks last year, under a provision that allows cab companies to increase mileage fees when federal data shows that the average price for gasoline exceeds $3.25 per gallon on the West Coast.

The state audit said the fuel surcharge should not have been assessed, noting that Las Vegas gasoline prices should have been used. Aguero said that the $3.25 threshold should be reduced if the fuel surcharge is based on local prices.

Moving forward, the state Legislature will need to consider how the new oversight department will be funded, along with the differing rules for taxi drivers in Clark County compared to the rest of the state, said Kimberly Maxson-Rushton, executive director and general counsel for the Livery Operators Association, which represents several taxi operators.

“I’m hopeful that they’ll look at those issues, consider all of the nuances and if they believe that changes need to be made that we can effectuate those during the next legislative session without doing a complete overhaul of the two agencies,” said Maxson-Rushton, a former chairwoman of the Nevada Transportation Authority.

“These are substantive changes to two major bodies,” Maxson-Rushton said. “So lots of additional info and consideration will need to be factored into where they go in the future.”

Contact Art Marroquin at amarroquin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0336. Find @AMarroquin_LV on Twitter.

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