Flat-rate zones deserve a chance

Taxi industry not happy with oversimplified study, but long-hauling remains an issue

Richard N. Velotta

Richard N. Velotta

After last month’s blowup over the Legislative Counsel Bureau’s taxicab long-hauling audit, just about everybody is ready to give flat rates a shot.

But if the taxi industry has anything to say about it — and you know it does — we won’t see flat rates anytime soon.

It would be a good experiment and great theater.

Here’s a recap of what we’ve seen in the past few weeks: On April 22, the audit division of the Legislative Counsel Bureau issued a report saying that in nearly a quarter of the trips from McCarran International Airport, cab drivers took passengers on a longer route than necessary, overcharging them by an estimated $14.8 million.

People were outraged because they received confirmation from an official source about something they always had suspected.

Drivers were outraged because they almost always are for one reason or another.

Cab companies were outraged because they said the state used faulty calculations to conclude there was rampant long-hauling. The state analyzed 2,730 trip sheets turned in by cab drivers and found that on 614, cabbies charged at least $5 more than the average cost.

True, some of those trips had to have been long-hauls. But some of them could just as easily have involved customers who asked the driver to get to the destination as quickly as possible and the longer route was faster.

Shortly after the audit was published, Yellow-Checker-Star Transportation, the second-largest taxi group in the city, demanded that the Legislative Counsel Bureau retract its report, saying it had damaged the reputation of the city’s more than 9,000 cab drivers.

When reports about the audit were published, people weighed in with their own stories about how they had been long-hauled, and many offered a simple solution that I’ve advocated for months — develop flat-rate zones for trips between the airport and the resort corridor.

A ride to the MGM Grand might cost $10. To Caesars Palace, $12. To Wynn, $14.

It would take state legislation to permit the calculation of fares from a meter-based to a zone-based model.

But cab companies ask: How would you charge a customer on a trip from the airport to a residence? How about from one resort to another? By meter? If meter and zone systems are in play, how do you prevent drivers from charging the larger of the two fares or, worse, both of them to an unsuspecting passenger?

Cab companies say flat-rate zone systems can be confusing to visitors unfamiliar with the city and under flat-rate zones, passengers could pay more than they would with a metered system.

It’s clear that the cab companies underestimate the public. There are city cab systems from coast to coast that operate just fine with flat rates. To plant flat-rate zones in Southern Nevada would require an extensive re-education program, but it’s an idea consumers would embrace.

The Taxicab Authority often points out that its mission is to serve the riding public. If finding a solution to the long-haul problem isn’t a mission toward serving the public, I don’t know what is.

It’s time to give it a try.

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