I’ve taken cabs in New York, Orlando, Miami, Chicago, cities in Europe—you name it, all over the place. When it comes to Las Vegas, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with cab drivers. It’s the only city other than Madrid I feel this way about (and for the same reason).
In Las Vegas, I’ve been lucky enough to meet some really nice, friendly cabbies with amazing stories who have brightened my day. I’ve also had some, shall we say, less-than-pleasant rides. But it was the driver who longhauled me and dumped me in a dark alley outside the tour lobby of the Flamingo late one night who really soured me on cab drivers in Las Vegas.
Now, I automatically suspect that a cab driver is trying to rip me off until proven otherwise. It’s sad, really. I don’t want to be suspicious of my fellow human beings. But now, I’m wary. Sometimes, a little too wary, as I learned this year.
The story below is a simple story, but says a lot, I think, about the taxi industry in Las Vegas.
During my July trip to Vegas, I split my stay between Planet Hollywood and the Palazzo. When it was time to change hotels, I caught a cab and told the driver where I was going. The driver was clearly first-generation American, an immigrant. He had an accent I couldn’t identify but might have been African. I only tell you this because he seemed like the kind of guy whose job options were limited.
As he pulled out of Planet Hollywood, he told me he wanted to avoid traffic on the Strip and asked if I minded if he went behind the Strip so the trip would be faster.
“Koval?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said.
Koval runs east of and parallel to the Strip. Drivers often take that route to avoid traffic jams on the Strip. So I told him “Okay.”
But the next time I looked up, I saw the MGM Grand. Given that Planet Hollywood is north of MGM Grand and the Palazzo is north of Planet Hollywood, I didn’t expect to see MGM Grand during the drive. For some reason, this confused me. I thought “Why are we heading south on the Strip? Immediately, I thought he was taking a longer route.
I asked, with suspicion in my voice, “This isn’t Koval, is it?”
“Yes, it is,” he said, and pointed out the window. “There’s the Palazzo.” Sure enough, it was ahead of us. We must have been on Harmon when I saw the MGM, about to turn onto Koval. I had my directions all turned around. Of course, then I felt like a jerk.
I mumbled something about being confused, and that it looked different than I remembered.
He noted that it looks different now because of the Linq construction. I pounced on the opportunity to change the subject and chat with him about how Las Vegas is always changing, and how the Linq was such a huge project. I said something about the High Roller (I don’t remember what), the base of which was already standing behind the Strip.
Then the conversation paused and after a moment, he said, “This work isn’t for me.”
“Driving a cab?” I asked.
“Yes. I won’t go the long way around, take the freeway, like other drivers. They make fun of me because I try to find shortcuts to get there faster.”
Damn. He knew I thought he was trying to longhaul me. Now I really felt bad.
“Well, they need to leave you alone and let you do things your way,” I said, trying to be supportive. “I think a flat rate would solve that problem.”
“Yes!” He agreed enthusiastically. “A flat rate so if you’re going from Planet Hollywood to Palazzo, it’s this much money.”
“So everyone knows up front.”
“Exactly!” He nodded his head.
“And then,” I went on, “you would benefit by finding the quickest routes and shortcuts, because the quicker you get people to where they’re going, the more fares you can squeeze in.”
We both fell quiet as we realized it was a nice dream, but it was a pipe dream. The taxi industry is too powerful. They’ll never allow flat rates to be instituted, just like they’ll always oppose any efforts to develop light rail between the airport and the Strip. The Taxicab Authority, while it claims to be trying to crack down on longhauling, is essentially toothless.
As we pulled into the Palazzo valet area, I looked at the meter and saw the price for the ride had been a reasonable one.
He repeated, more to himself than to me, “This job is not for me.”
I silently agreed it probably wasn’t. And for that, I gave him a big tip.
Of course, there are many honest cab drivers in Las Vegas, not just this one. But when longhauling is so commonplace that honest cabbies are at a disadvantage and where visitors are forced to come up with strategies to avoid being longhauled–the system is broken. I don’t like the adversarial relationship between drivers and customers in Vegas. We’re providing cab drivers with their livelihood. They’re providing us with a service we need. It should be a win-win. But the constant specter of longhauling hangs over everyone’s head.
I think a flat rate system (or even a partial flat rate system in the tourist corridor) would help reduce or eliminate longhauling. What do you think? If a flat rate system isn’t the solution to stop longhauling, what is?