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November 26, 2014

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Billboards on trucks to face a review

Cabbies, residents want crackdown; local operators say culprits from elsewhere

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LAS VEGAS SUN FILE

A mobile billboard rolls down the Strip. The signs have been blamed for causing congestion, and Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani says she is reviewing the safety, traffic and air-quality issues they pose.

Beyond the Sun

Clark County is reviewing the presence of mobile billboards on the Strip following complaints from cabbies and other drivers about clogged roads and related problems.

“It’s clearly a safety, traffic, congestion and air-quality issue,” said Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, whose district includes the Strip north of Flamingo Road. “I also want to look at the brightness of these signs on the Strip because that could be a safety issue.”

Cabdrivers first raised the traffic issue at the Taxicab Authority’s meeting March 25. They plan to go to Giunchigliani, who said she also has heard complaints from many constituents that the billboards have slowed traffic.

“I really want to get the public to participate in this discussion ... and I’m researching what other states have done,” she said. “Some states have prohibited them, but I’m still looking at everything before making any decisions about them.”

The number of billboards mounted on trucks driven up and down the Strip is unknown.

Taxi driver George Zeigner of A-North Las Vegas Cab estimates that as many as 200 trucks are involved.

The two largest companies — Big Traffic and Sky Mobile Billboards — have just 25 vehicles between them. But those companies’ operators say some of the mobile signs are unlicensed and come from out-of-town companies that pay no city fees or taxes.

Marla Letizia, president of Big Traffic, said she welcomes a dialogue with Giunchigliani and wants enforcement, which she thinks would help her company.

“I’ve been asking for better enforcement for years,” Letizia said, adding that most of the violations involve the unlicensed out-of-market competitors who run their vehicles on the Strip during big conventions.

She cited a Clark County ordinance that is frequently violated by companies from outside the county. The ordinance reads, “No vehicle shall display or exhibit any signage that contains moving or flashing lights or animation of any kind.” She said she frequently sees vehicles on the Strip that project video images.

Former Clark County Commissioner Myrna Williams said she supports Letizia’s efforts to ban illegal operators. But she gave up the fight, she said, because Metro Police didn’t respond to her calls for enforcement. Now, however, with the issue raised again, Williams plans to meet with Giunchigliani on May 14.

Although Letizia’s company is operating legally on the Strip, it takes the brunt of public criticism of mobile billboards because her company is the largest with 13 trucks operating, she said.

Vincent Bartello, who manages Sky Mobile Billboards, said he has 12 trucks but has 30 more being manufactured. He said his goal is to have 200 within five years.

Bartello said he would like to see evenhanded treatment when it comes to traffic clogging the Strip.

He said his company’s drivers have been written 15 tickets over the past three years because they were stopped in traffic behind buses and didn’t pull around them. In most instances, he said, it would have been more dangerous for a truck to pull around a stopped bus than to simply wait for passengers to get on and off.

As for safety issues, Big Traffic uses a satellite-assisted global positioning system to monitor the speed of all drivers. If a driver exceeds a posted speed limit, a traffic monitor is alerted and the driver can be disciplined.

But there’s no accounting for vehicles that go too slowly because many of them are stopped or slowed when traffic gets heavy or at traffic lights.

Letizia said her company strictly monitors wind velocity and a mobile billboard driver’s speed. If wind gusts reach 25 to 35 mph, a driver has the option of pulling off the road. When sustained winds reach 30 mph, a mandatory order to pull off is issued.

Some companies allow their drivers to continue in high winds, Letizia said, and vehicles that tow signs behind a truck are especially dangerous in high winds because trailers can jackknife or fishtail in traffic.

One large difference between Letizia’s and Bartello’s companies is the types of businesses for which each is willing to advertise. Letizia said her company refuses to take ads from strip clubs or escort services, although it does accept ads for the Rio’s Chippendales show.

Bartello not only advertises outcall service companies, he owns one. He defended his Hot Babes entertainment company, which has been in business for 15 years, and said most people — especially tourists — love his mobile billboards.

“When you come to Vegas, you expect adult-oriented entertainment,” Bartello said. “Lots of people want to get their picture taken next to the sign.”

Bartello said he would be willing to withdraw all his adult-oriented advertising, but only if every other billboard company agreed to the same. He doesn’t expect that to happen.

“I think I’ve been a good neighbor over the years,” he said. “We only advertise in the resort corridor, so I think what we do is appropriate.”

A version of this story appears in In Business Las Vegas, a sister publication.

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