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August 28, 2014

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living las vegas:

Las Vegas cabdrivers say they’re driven to cheat

Las Vegas cabs are notorious for taking circuitous routes from the airport, and drivers say such behavior is encouraged

Las Vegas cab drivers

How common do you think cheating is among Las Vegas cab drivers?
Very common. — 71.7%
Fairly common. — 19.0%
It probably happens some. — 7.4%
Not common. — 0.9%
Rare. — 0.9%

This poll is closed, see Full Results »

Note: This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

It was a rare bit of sunshine in an otherwise gloomy news season. In September, hotels.com released the results of its annual taxi survey, declaring Las Vegas taxicabs the best overall among 50 U.S. cities, as rated by nearly 2,000 travelers. Oh sure, the deck was stacked in at least a few of the seven categories — “knowledge of the area” isn’t really fair when you compare the Strip with a confusingly laid-out city such as Atlanta, and “availability” isn’t hard when taxis are only allowed to pick up fares at well-stacked hotel and airport stands or by dispatch at other businesses or residences. Still, that Las Vegas topped any list not starting with “Worst” was something worth talking about.

More recently comes news that drivers set a new single-day record for McCarran International Airport pickups during the Consumer Electronics Show — nearly 15,000 fares Jan. 5. But if you think Vegas-based cabbies are among the few weathering the downturn here with ease, you couldn’t be more wrong. When I started approaching drivers asking for nothing more than reaction to the survey, an entirely different state of affairs emerged. Many didn’t want to talk, no matter the subject. Others laughed and shook their heads wearily. And those who would speak insisted their real names not be used. Every one.

“They’re forcing these guys into a dishonest living,” one driver says.

They opened up a litany of issues, complaints and accusations that might seem unbelievable if so many of them weren’t repeated at locations from East Tropicana to West Sahara, from the Strip to Summerlin, by drivers for several of Las Vegas’ 16 cab companies. In an era when corruption seems so antiquated that we’re creating museums to look back on it, drivers say one business still operates like a syndicate: theirs.

“We call them ‘tunnel rats,’ ” Terry (not his real name) tells me, driving down Harmon Avenue. His cab is typically dank and cramped and smells like a potpourri-scented locker room. “You come out of the airport, go through the tunnel that takes you onto the (Interstate) 215, to the 15” to get to the Strip. It adds about $10 to a fare, and is legal only if the driver offers it as an option to the passenger. The technical term for the practice is “long-hauling,” taking unwitting passengers the long way around — typically from the airport to the Strip (the most common route for nearly all cabs) but also from the Strip to downtown — and it’s one of the major issues damning Las Vegas taxis today. One cabbie tells me of a driver who was caught charging a fare of $92 from the airport to the Hard Rock Hotel (let’s just say he took the scenic route: as most locals know, it’s less than two miles away).

“I love taking people back to the airport,” says a tough-as-nails veteran driver with a voice as chiseled as his face. “They always wonder why the fare is so much lower” than the cost of the ride in the other direction.

Yes, the Nevada Taxicab Authority does have its own policing force, and a chart on its website lists estimated cab fares — down to the penny — from McCarran to 70 major casinos, but the authority police have been far from effectual in keeping everyone honest. “We only have four officers per shift,” enforcement supervisor Rico Constantino told KLAS Channel 8 last summer. “That’s one supervisor, and we have to answer to 8,000 square miles. So, there are not enough people.” That may be an understatement, considering there are more than 2,200 medallions (taxi permits) on the streets of Clark County. Elisabeth Daniels, public information officer for the state Business and Industry Department, which oversees the authority, admits, “There are no officers assigned specifically to long-route enforcement. It would be impossible considering that the taxicab industry in Clark County completed more than 25 million trips in 2010,” 3 million of which originated at McCarran.

Click to enlarge photo

"They're forcing these guys into a dishonest living," says one driver.

Last year, authority officials said they received 836 long-hauling complaints and issued more than 200 citations to drivers. Out of 3 million trips from the airport to the Strip, those figures are tiny, but some claim underreporting is likely because customers would rather pay up than deal with the process of filing a formal complaint. Is there a greater problem the authority police need to monitor?

Even more disturbing are frequent claims by drivers that the taxi companies themselves tacitly encourage long-hauling, not only through quota pressures, but even suggestions that cabbies “be creative,” as one Whittlesea driver claims he was told by his bosses when taking passengers from the airport.

“If a driver is conscientious and doesn’t use the tunnel, he isn’t going to make book,” another driver explains — “make book” meaning keep your daily averages high. “Sometimes the only business out there is the airport. If you just work the Strip, you’re never going to make book.” Not keeping averages high (call it a quota, or not) means you’ll be assigned a bad cab, fewer shifts or just weekday shifts, the drivers say. Desert Cab Operations Manager Jesse Lira says the only repercussions for consistently low averages is “They get talked to. They don’t get penalized.” Calls to six other cab companies for comment were not returned.

“They’re forcing these guys into a dishonest living,” says another driver, letting an insistent “working girl” hire the next cab while he talks to me at Palace Station.

“There has been no evidence that the certificate holders (taxicab companies) encourage or fail to discourage their employees from taking a longer route than necessary,” says Daniels, sidestepping the question of whether the authority has ever investigated the matter.

This situation shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s paid attention to the plight of the Las Vegas cab system over the past few years. Channel 8’s George Knapp did an extensive series on the problems in the taxi system last year, which seems to have been greeted by those in charge with at worst a yawn and a belly scratch and at best suggestions of change that have amounted to little progress.

In July of last year, Taxicab Authority Administrator Gordon Walker proposed a plan to set a flat rate of $20 from the airport to any resort destination on the Strip, well over the estimated fares to most Strip locales, such as the $16.84 (including wait time in traffic) it should cost to reach Wynn Las Vegas. Walker also considered a $500 fine against drivers who took passengers the long way around, with the fine doubled for a second offense. “Ultimately, there was no support for the flat rate, particularly from the taxicab industry,” Daniels says, “so the proposal was not pursued any further.” You read that right: Companies would not support a proposal that would, theoretically, bring them more revenue per trip and take away a long-standing stigma.

Click to enlarge photo

There are more than 2,200 medallions (taxi permits) on the streets of Clark County.

Cabdrivers don’t like Las Vegas’ high rates (some of the highest in the nation) any more than you do. Those rates downwardly influence tips and discourage people from using cabs. Drivers also don’t particularly like waiting in long lines at casinos just to satisfy a law that makes it illegal to pick up a fare virtually anywhere else unless directed there by dispatch. (Las Vegas Municipal Code also calls for the establishment of open taxi stands on city streets, of which there are none.)

Intriguingly, Walker and fellow executive Joe Dahlia left their positions in the fall (Joseph Wingard, a veteran lieutenant of the Nevada Highway Patrol, is the interim administrator). But drivers don’t seem to feel new blood will change anything unless the system changes, too.

Drivers, who work 12-hour shifts as full timers (14, if you include before-and-after processing at the cab companies), estimate their annual incomes at $25,000-$55,000 before taxes. Almost all work as independent contractors, having to pay for their own gas and receiving few of the benefits usually associated with full-time work (no holiday pay, no overtime, no sick pay, limited insurance benefits).

And with reduced demand in recent months, it would appear the number of cabs on the streets (2,217 medallions, only 247 of which are barred from picking up at the airport, Strip or downtown) undercuts a driver’s profitability, despite higher fare rates. Some drivers even admit that the pressure of making book with so much competition forces them to drive more recklessly. “I eat lunch in the cab. I don’t take breaks,” one Desert Cab driver says.

One might presume big convention weeks help compensate for dry periods, but the authority actually issues temporary medallions during trade shows such as CES, further increasing the number of cabs on the street.

“I’d compare it to an old Civil War plantation where the owners are the overseers and the drivers are the slaves,” driver Terry says near the Hard Rock.

Another contributing problem: limousines. Any local resident has undoubtedly noticed more luxurious cars-for-hire over the past few years. Competition is fair, of course, except when the laws regarding that competition are routinely ignored: Laws that should dictate how close private limos can “stage” (wait) near taxi stands; the ways limos may be hired near taxi stands (hint: No soliciting); and how limos may interact with taxi valets. “Anyone going to strip clubs gets diverted to limos,” a Desert Cab driver informs me, naming properties where I can witness it happening regularly.

Driving a “hack” has never been a glamorous profession — at least in this country. Generally, it’s what a person does when he or she is willing to accept long hours and tedium in exchange for independence from an office or warehouse. And, to be sure, hard-luck employment stories are not hard to find in Las Vegas these days. But while Terry’s owner/slave metaphor might seem extreme, working conditions for Las Vegas cabdrivers distinctly recall the archaic practices of the sharecropper and company-town coal miner eras.

“We could bring this city to a halt if we wanted to,” says the driver at Palace Station, looking into the distance.

If visitors or residents want a fair system, it seems they might have to.

A version of this story first appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.

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  1. I hate it when they go via 215 and not on Tropicana/Paradise/Harmon. this is really a con game and I try to avoid taxi rides whenever possible.

    From Switzerland

  2. ...Gee ....I'm glad this came up.....I stopped taking taxis because I would say "please dont take me through the tunnel" and their response would be .."whose driving this cab lady you or me"... and then they take you through the tunnel...so I take the bus... everyone pays a flat rate and he stops at all the hotels....simple solution....but that's nothing compared to the cab driver who picked me up at the Atlanta Ga airport at 2:00AM and drove me around until I asked him to let me out and I called the Police... the fare was $85.00 by that time and the cab driver stopped and got out and pulled down his zipper to urinate in a deserted parking lot.....

  3. Once again the media focuses on making the Las Vegas Cabbies look bad.

    hotels.com rated the Las Vegas Cabbies number one.Unfortunately a news story with the headline "Las Vegas Cabbies Rated # 1" is not the sensational journalism that attracts readership.

    Yes there are a few bad apples in every industry. The Nevada Taxi Authority works hard to cull out these drivers.

    It seems awkward that hotels.com surveyed 2000 riders in Las Vegas and gave the number 1 rating to a den of thieves. I find it also strange that E.C. Gladstone used no full names of the Las Vegas Cabbies interviewed in the article above.

    I would like to say, "Thank You" to hotels.com.

    Ben Merliss
    Nellis Cab Co.
    TA # 19834

  4. Someone should check and see what uses the most gas and put the most waer and tear on the cab, a long haul or being stuck in traffic?

    All cabs should be Chevy Volts.

  5. Best example to put the taxi driver to the test is to hop into it from Bellagio and tell the driver you want to go to the Orleans.
    A fair driver turns right on Harmon and takes the new bridge way that many tourists (obviously do not know yet). This saves a few minutes of driving time, ....and money, too.
    A highway robbery con driver goes up all the way till Tropicana and then turns right. Which, in fact, is a nice little extra detour, compared to the express route via Harmon through citicenter.

    The tunnel con ride from the airport is definetely something nasty. I always ride the shuttle or the CAT, which, for my means, is a relatively short final ride if I count all the hours it usually took me to get to Vegas from all the way from Switzerland. 30 Minutes more or less don't bother me anymore. But it's a differnce if you pay 34 dollars or 2 dollars for this ride from McCarran to Downtown.

    From Switzerland

  6. Ben Merliss, don't pull your arm out of joint patting yourself on the back. Your company ostracized me, as an honest driver, because I couldn't match the money being turned in through illegitimate means.
    By long hauls and some drivers running the meter with their own tips to up the competitive competition makes it virtually impossible for an honest driver to perservere. Some of this tip money being ran on the meters is acquire by hustling tourist to strip clubs that give the most 'kick backs'. True to form, management verbally discourages these practices. They have to. However they turn a blind eye as this continues. This is nothing new.

  7. ben, never long hauled in your career as a cabbie?
    if not i commend you.

    ten years ago i just started renting a car. 25-30 dollars a day for car rental is alot cheaper than a $20 cab ride one way. vegas isnt like the old days when you went to a resort & often never left there your entire trip.

    valet is free everywhere with a few bucks for the tip & the wait is usually shorter than many cab lines. it also affords me to go to & see many more local places & visit 2-3 casinos a day.

    my last cab ride was 2010 (when the person renting the car left on an earlier flight.) i caught a cab leaving ceasars & told the driver to turn left on flamingo or harmon & take paradise into the airport. he proceeded to go to tropicana & turned RIGHT (west) away from the airport! when i asked him what he was doing he stated 'its much faster to take the freeway.' after i b*tched him out & threatened to report this 'new' resident to our country i made him turn around at the first opportunity & head to paradise. needless to say he did not receive a tip & put another black eye on the vegas cabbies. and yes, i tell everyone i know about the rip-off & encourage them to rent a car.

    this is just part of the declining vegas allure. more dealers dont smile or chit chat with customers anymore then get mad if you dont tip. bartenders dont like it when you use coupons/drink tickets ect. you/these people are in the SERVICE industry. i know its often not glamourus & you may have to deal with some angry people but ITS YOUR JOB. do it well please. if i want to be treated with disrespect & treated badly i'll just stay home & go to my job.

  8. I drove a cab for 9 years in Clark County and, believe me, drivers do get penalized for "low book," regardless of what Desert Cab's Jesse Lira says. They get suspended or fired! As for the "long haul," it hurts every driver in the wallet because smart riders avoid taking cabs in the future and it reduces the number of fares available, but most cab drivers I knew, could not care less as they felt they were only driving a cab temporarily. The clean, professional driver has become a thing of the past, taken over by Third-Worlders who not only stink up the joint but enjoy ripping off their fares. Many of them were thieves in their native countries and have no compunction about being thieves in the U.S. This is the payback for giving these cretins sanctuary, freedom and opportunity in the best country on Earth!

  9. I, too, am a former LV cab driver (1985-86, 1988-97, 2002-03.) I also have a son currently employed in the industry. When I worked, I was constantly pressured to "get my book up." My leaving in '97 WAS a termination for low book, after nearly nine years of acceptable performance and rising to #14 in seniority of the company. Don't kid yourselves, money is the game, not safety, not customer satisfaction. The only way you can prove your usefulness to the companies is by your book. First way to change the mindset: Get the TA out of "ranking " the companies for shift averages, which they do monthly. The companies take their positions on that list YERY seriously, and if you are not contributing to raising/maintaining that, you're just not worth having around, no matter what else you may be contributiong to the industry. I remember one driver who, when cited for low book and complained, the infraction was changed to "poor trip selection." That was "WTF" before "WTF" existed! The companies will not care about long-hauling complaints unless and until they are penalized for it, which isn't going to happen in the current envioronment. They can always claim they don't condone it , but not condoning is a far cry from condemning, and if the condemning only results in drivers being fired, nothing will improve. The entire industry needs to be overhauled, reformed and corrected, but I just don't see it happening.

  10. Las Vegas needs to STOP.
    Quit nickel & diming our guests to death; it's KILLING our reputation!!!

    I just had a couple in town that hadn't been here in a few years.
    They were SHOCKED at all the ways that Vegas is going after tourists with the resort fees, drink prices, $60 dollars for the Buffet(!) @ Mandalay Bay (for 2), $4.50 for a glass of ice with Coke splashed over it, $4.00 for a cup of coffee, etc., etc...
    Do we assume people are A)Stupid B)They won't care or C)They'll come back regardless of how bad we gouge them?

    Not a good business model.
    Short-term gain,
    Long-term pain.

  11. The last time I was long hauled in Las Vegas was in 2001 after the terrorist attack in new york vegas was like a ghost town I guess they felt they had to steal from me to make ends meet.
    I told the cabbie not to take freeway and he did but before he got to the exit I took a picture of his cabbie lic. with my phone and he asked what I was doing and I told him I was going to call the Taxi Authority in the morning and I am almost certain they will want your name, At this point he turned the meter off and I got to my destination with no further charges.
    Now when I fly in I take the free shuttle from the airport to the car rental Facility and get a car there and $25.00 a day is a lot cheaper than the cab rides plus I go to red rock canyon Boulder Dam, All sorts of places with out the cabbie B.S. I know all Cabbies are not that way but the only way to get to the ones responsible are through the good ones, and the good ones should be calling out the bad ones.

  12. Most rides from the airport to the strip via the connector tunnel comes to about $5.00 more than the streets when there is no traffic..It is usually a faster ride on the freeway..I don't see why all the complaining about 5 bucks to get to your destination faster is all about..As far as getting ripped off, you are in Vegas..You will probably lose a lot more money than the $5.00 extra for the cab ride..People throw hundreds and sometimes thousands away on casino games that are rigged to rip you off..That's OK..but $5.00 extra for the cab ride..Oh My God..Get real..

  13. No kidding! Just after I arrived to live in LV I was injured (broken collar bone) in a car accident. The cab that picked me up at UMC charged me $40+ to drive me to my new home off N. Jones and 215 and was an ass the entire ride. Like he was doing me a favor. Next time I would rather they call a hearse vice a cab.

  14. Listen it's not about the extra $5.00 bucks it's $12.-15 bucks and there is a difference of being ripped off and losing on a wager when I wager I have some what of an expectation that I may win, How ever in a cab you never have an expectation of getting a lower fare for the extra money. And you fall right in to the trap that I will probable lose more at the casino's so it's ok that I am getting gauged, (That's a weak way of thinking) And if it's only a small amount how about you pay mine for me it's only $5.00.

    It may be that this is the reason the Casino's are not doing as well the patron's are getting fleeced before they get there and it changes the gamblers mind set.

  15. What a Racket, and officals just look the other way.

  16. In June 2010, I came to Vegas from England. It wasnt my first visit. To get from the Airport to my hotel, the Best Western Mardi Gras on Paradise cost me $40 in a taxi.

    The worst thing was I knew about long hauling and was just too tired after my 12 hour flight to argue. I wish I was awake enough at the time to take a picture of the license with my phone. I am returning to Vegas in June this year. But I will not be taking another taxi.

  17. The days when I took a taxi a gone long time ago. I am the type of person to rent a car. It gives me maximum flexibility except the fact that I can't drink all day through. But that's ok, too much drinking ain't good, anyways. I can start drinking when I am at my base hotel and play some texas hold'em or video machines before bed time.

    I hate to be betrayed and when cab drivers purposely de-tour my ride it pisses me off. That's why I decided to rather pay these 40 bucks/day for my car but knowing that from the moment I get the car key in my hand I am fully flexible and can get anywhere in town.
    Without a rental car it's hassle to get form Bellagio to Mandalay Bay, but with a car you can get easily from the M Resort all the way to red rock and then to the Aliante, ... in relatively short time. And that's a huge PLUS.

    From Switzerland

  18. JUST BECAUSE YOU ARE DRIVEN TO CHEAT DOES NOT MEAN THAT YOU SHOULD CHEAT. CHEATING IS CHEATING AND IS NOT RIGHT. END OF STORY.

  19. by far the absolut worst taxi experience goes back a few years when I was in BudaPest /Hungary, for a dental treatment. These drivers are really crooks and it is a known fact. At nights, they're cheating the tourists blind! They have meters that can be changed virtually and show fares on display that are much higher than the same ride cost under normal conditions. And I am not talkinga bout 20% more or so, I mean 4x 5x the amount! And this really sucks big league. It went so far that I got sick of visiting Hungary and many other people from Western Europe had the same experince in this regard.
    Trust be, but a bad taxi driver experience can turn your entire trip into a nightmare and give a real bad impression about a certain country.

    Therefore, it's very important that tourists are being treated fair when visiting Vegas.

    From Switzerland

  20. I think we found a very delicate matter to discuss for a change. I also believe that there's a lot of truth in the comments and this doesn't have to do anything with racism or discrimination, it's the plein and simple truth.
    What's the worst of it all, the long taxi cab waiting lines. When the tourist finally gets to enter this cab he's supposed to be thankful or happy. But instead, the nightmare has just begun. Go figure....

  21. After getting long hauled a few years ago I haven't stepped into a Vegas taxi since. All this greed just makes more customers for car rental companies and more dangerous roads clogged with out of town drivers. So yeah.. good job being short sighted, penny wise and pound foolish cabbies.

  22. Suggestion:

    Post that chart mentioned in the article - " chart on its website lists estimated cab fares " - in every boarding/deplaning area, every baggage carousel, every exit/entrance to the airport, every cab back seat and every authorized taxi stand & pick up spot with the expense paid for by jointly by the cab companies.

    Include a complaint number, website and mailing address on each fare list/placard. And make the 1st offense a $500 fine - $250 by the company/$250 by the driver; the 2nd offense a 14 day suspension of driver, vehicle and a $1000 fine for the company and the 3d offense permanent suspension for the driver/vehicle and a $5,000 fine for the company. Or something similar.

    Companies will quit pressuring drivers to lie and cheat when it's in their best interest to do so and drivers will quit lying and cheating when the companies stop pressuring them and doing so endangers their livelihood.

    That said, the enforcing authority also needs to look at ways to allow them to make a living without micromanaging them out of it. Just no stealing from fares.

  23. My son was just here with a bunch of friends and got long-hauled. I didn't think to warn him. He and his friends left thinking it was a city full of cheats. The cab driver made an extra $15. Other people lose their jobs serving food, working in hotels, dealing blackjack because the ones visiting without family here plan to never come back. Why in the world did they stop the $20 airport/strip ride? Special interests prevail to the harm of everybody else.

  24. Last time I was in town I told the driver that I would pay him $20 for a cab ride to the Excalibur. How much was fare and how much would be tip depended solely on him. Needless to say that was the quickest journey to the hotel I ever got.

  25. hombre wrote

    "On top of the long hauling tricks most of the cabs in this town have underinflated tires. That makes it more expensive also."

    One of Dr Reefer's friends must still be in business.

    That's exactly what sensational journalism does. It creates unfounded rumors that scare the public .

    Don't bogart that joint my friend.

  26. Yeah, most cabs in Vegas have underinflated, bald tires, are almost out of gas, have hardly any oil in the crankcase and their mufflers drag on the pavement. That makes 'em go reeeeeaaaalllll slow and make the ride more expensive.

  27. Count how many times your cabbie changes lanes. He's not doing it just to get in a better one, I assure you.

  28. Cabs in Vegas cost more than NYC per mile (of course the traffic isn't as bad in Vegas). Shuttle buses work great, and from there you can get anywhere using certain hotel shuttles for free.

  29. My wife and I got long-hauled about five years back - we were looking for a quicky trip from the TI to the Aladdin on a Tuesday morning (no traffic whatsoever on the Strip) and the driver headed west on Spring Mountain towards I15! When I complained he pretended he didn't speak English and then threatened to drop us off out on Industrial Road.

    We come down to Vegas three times a year and I haven't taken a cab since. I'd only take a cab again if they went flat rate.

  30. To all the cry babies..Take the freakin bus and you can keep that big dollar tip to throw in some stupid machine..This is why Vegas is hurting so bad..It's the type of visitor they are courting these days..Thirty years ago the crowd that used to come here would laugh at all this crap..I blame the hotels for bringing these cheap skate people here and that is why they are suffering now...

  31. no steven, the reason vegas is hurting is because of people like you.

  32. I was a taxi owner-operator in N.Y.C. for 4.5 years.
    In general, a cabbie, to accelerate his earnings, does so by
    increasing the number of trips he completes per shift.

    In N.Y.C. at least I would have a good day if I was 'booking' > 25 trips in a day.
    The "drop" on the meter is crucial to one's earnings. Many small tips generally exceeds the aggregate gratuities of a lesser number of (longer) trips.

    While cabbies are compensated sufficiently for time spent stuck in traffic, it is boring, tedious, and restricts the number of trips completed.