Vegas Cabbies Bilked Passengers of $15 Million Last Year

Taxicab Authority, cab companies, drivers union at odds in Carson City

by , Apr 25, 2013 | 5:00 pm

Photo: Jeff Scheid/Las Vegas Review-Journal

Photo: Jeff Scheid/Las Vegas Review-Journal

Nearly a million and a half travelers were overcharged an estimated $14.8 million last year by cabdrivers and cab companies, a legislative audit of the state Taxicab Authority found.

The audit, released Monday, estimated that 22.5 percent of the 6.6 million rides given by local taxicabs to and from McCarran International Airport in 2012 were deceptively long.

The practice, known as long hauling, added an average of about $10 to the typical cab fare, according to the audit. It recommended that the Taxicab Authority take several steps to prevent long hauling. Auditors came up with their estimate by reviewing 2,730 airport trips and said 614 of them involved long hauling.

They noted that their estimate was conservative because they did not count a trip as a long hauling ride unless the fare was at least $5 higher than the estimated fare to a specific destination, typically about $16 to $18.

“Although the Authority has increased its efforts to detect long hauling, more needs to be done, including the use of preventative measures,” the audit said.

Those measures include putting signs at the airport and in cabs noting the estimated fare to popular tourist resorts.

Both cabdrivers and cab companies benefit financially when a passenger is long hauled.

Authority spokeswoman Teri Williams said the agency would address each of the audit’s findings.

She released a statement by agency administrator Charles Harvey.

“The Taxicab Authority accepts the audit recommendations to improve the effectiveness of internal controls and operational and compliance related activities and will put measures into place to address those findings,” the statement read, in part.

Auditors noted that taxi rides are often the first and last experience tourists have in Las Vegas. “Therefore, long hauling may result in tourists having a negative experience,” they wrote.

Dawn Christensen, a spokeswoman for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said the agency would have no comment.

A bill that would have required cab companies to establish flat rates between the airport and various locations in an attempt to curtail long hauling failed in the Legislature this year.

The union representing taxi drivers striking against Yellow Checker Star Transportation said Monday that they would travel by bus today to Carson City to protest the bill’s failure.

They also will stage a protest designed to persuade Gov. Brian Sandoval to appoint a drivers’ representative to the Taxicab Authority board.

In addition to the long hauling problems, the audit also found that the Taxicab Authority had not conducted an audit of taxicab companies for three and a half years despite the Legislature allocating money 10 years ago for that purpose. Instead, authority managers were assigning employees to other tasks.

Williams said, however, that the agency began an audit of the companies in February. She said it would be completed within a year. She noted that many of the problems found in the audit date to a previous administration. Harvey became agency administrator in 2011.

Such audits could discover potential problems. The legislative auditors noted that their review of 600 drivers’ trip sheets identified 53 percent that didn’t contain required time stamps that allow verification of the number of hours worked. That could be a potential safety issue because drivers may be working too many hours and could become fatigued, the auditors wrote.

The audit also found that the authority does not do a good job of keeping track of medallions, which are metal plates that authorize a taxi to operate. That could be an important issue because it could make it difficult for the authority to determine whether they should allow more cabs on the road. The audit said that poor inventory control is largely because of the authority not following its own policies.

Williams said that will change. She said the authority was unaware of the problem before the audit and officials were glad it was discovered.

She added that Harvey has instituted a top-to-bottom review of all of the agency’s policies and procedures.

The Taxicab Authority is required to respond to the audit by July 17 with a plan to fix the problems. It’s also required to file a progress report by Jan. 17.
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