Longhauling and the Honest Cabbie

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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.


Welcome Sign

 

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.”

 

Vegas Strip

 

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.

 

Planet Hollywood

 

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.”

“Yes.”

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.

 

Vegas Sign

 

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?

 

14 thoughts on “Longhauling and the Honest Cabbie

  1. Dave

    In cabs from LAS to my hotel, I like many others often say “No tunnel, please”, because it’s code for “I know that if you take the tunnel, you’re long-hauling me, so don’t do it”. I’ve never actually liked saying it because to my ears, it sounds like I’m assuming that the driver might have been thinking of long-hauling me. It’s confrontational and suspicious. In my admittedly limited experience, some drivers long haul, while others don’t. It’s not a universal thing.

    I wonder if saying “Bellagio, and please don’t long-haul me” would work. It’s definitely nicer, and yet for some reason, I think it’s a little more respectful. It also names the issue up front and puts it squarely on the table, rather than relying on some code.

    Yeah yeah, I know this is probably a bad idea. I’ve never actually tried it.

    Reply
    1. Gray Cargill Post author

      You’ve got that right, Dave. There is no good way to have the conversation to let them know that you know about longhauling and won’t tolerate it without being, in some way, confrontational and letting them know that you don’t automatically trust them to be honest. I used to think giving them street directions was the best way to go…until a cabbie came back at me with the “Oh, but there’s construction on that route” excuse (and then proceeded to longhaul me). It’s ridiculous that we have to start our vacations off trying to figure out the best way not to get ripped off.

      Reply
  2. captainjay

    I agree. When I say, “no tunnel” you can start the whole drive off on the wrong foot. It’s insulting to some, and informative to others (letting them know that you know where you are and how things work).

    I find the most comfort in directing the cab driver 100%. Take xxxx to xxxx and up to xxxx. Thanks.

    I do the same thing in Toronto when I use cabs.

    That way if I’m wrong, then I’m wrong. I can own my own errors, but I don’t want to pay cash for someone else’s error.

    Reply
    1. Gray Cargill Post author

      I used to do that too, captainjay, until the cabbie who swore there was construction on the route I gave him. I had no way of knowing if that was true or not. I guess I could have called his bluff and said “Take that route anyway, and if there’s construction, I guess you’ll get a bigger fare.” (That was the guy who longhauled me and dumped me in the dark alley at the Flamingo.) There just is no fool-proof way of doing it. That’s why I think flat rates are the answer. Everyone knows going into it what the trip will cost and so there’s no game-playing.

      Reply
  3. Kelly

    When I get in a cab at the airport the guy will ask me my destination. I tell the guy hold on a sec while I write down his name and license number.After I write it down I tell him and he doesn’t long haul me. i always have the number of the taxicab authority on my phone too. I’ve been long hauled once cause I didn’t know better. I do now, and I’m sure they get newbies all the time. Especially people from other countries that don’t know or don’t care. They are tourists and are too busy looking to care. Those outweigh the smart people like us that know. So I can see it going on for a while as they (the dishonest ones) can get away with it.

    Reply
    1. Gray Cargill Post author

      Ooh, now THAT is an interesting strategy, Kelly. I hadn’t thought of writing it all down before the ride even starts. That’s one way to keep them on the straight and narrow! Thanks for your comment!

      Reply
  4. Hardware

    I’ve read plenty of comments on longhauling, how to fight it and why you shouldn’t care, because you’re on vacation, and if you can’t afford a few bucks, you probably shouldn’t be on vacation. Some people don’t care if they throw $5 or $10 out the window occasionally, I guess. I wish I could afford to do that on a regular basis, but I digress.

    Newbies won’t know any better, unfortunately, but if you do get longhauled, don’t tip. Don’t reduce your normal tip because of longhauling: just don’t tip. Fine, if the fare is $22.15, pay him $23 if you’re paying cash. People say they tip less than they would normally. Screw that!

    I have become a rental car guy during the past three years. I find that it typically saves me both time and money by affording me opportunities to see and do things I wouldn’t get to without a car. (There’s no way I’d get to see Flipperspiel Wunderland without a rental car.)

    For some, alcohol is an important part of the Vegas experience, from day to night, so a car is a bad idea. For me, that’s not a concern. My recent Halloween trip included a drive up Mt. Charleston on Oct. 30. We enjoyed it, but it never would have been a consideration without a rental car. Andy yes, I might pay more

    Reply
    1. Gray Cargill Post author

      That is a good point, Hardware. I’m embarrassed to admit, I have tipped even when I was longhauled (not as much as normal, but still, it should have been nothing). Why? I didn’t want a confrontation. My guess is the dishonest cabbies count on people wanting to avoid a confrontation to get away with what they do. Part of me wishes I could rent a car. But I’m nightblind so I’d have to take cabs at night anyway. No point in paying for both.

      Reply
  5. Steven

    Whether I’ll make an issue out of the longhaul really depends on two things: (1) How severe the fare difference, and (2) the attitude of the driver. Of course, this assumes I know which route is best which is usually, but not always, true.

    If it’s a couple bucks, I may tip a bit lower. But a few dollars is not worth my effort to fight or time to wait for the Taxicab Authority to show up. On the other hand, if I let the driver take me from Fremont St to the Airport via I-15 the whole way, that’s an extra $20-$25. Ask me how I know… : (

    So I’ll generally only set the route straight during these longer rides, like from LAS to downtown.I tell the driver to take Paradise and they’re cool with that. If they say there’s construction, I’ve already consulted my iPhone traffic map and can show them whether there’s really any “red” traffic.

    And I have to admit I’m a bit sympathetic to the nice drivers. One time, I caught a ride from a friend way out on Twain Ave in the western suburbs. He couldn’t pick me up after my meeting so I called for a cab. Cab all the way back to town was about $65. I knew he didn’t longhaul me it was just a long distance.

    After I paid and tipped him, he was shouting for joy and pounding the wheel with glee. He said it had been a slow day and he was just about to get off and hadn’t made much. Now he said he was set for the next two shifts!

    I thought, wow, off a $65 fare? So yeah, I don’t like to be longhauled and will only put up with so much of it. But that job must really suck.

    Reply
    1. Gray Cargill Post author

      Thanks for your story, Steven. I, too, have let it slide on occasion, just because it’s easier than getting into a fight. Depends on the mood I’m in and whether it’s just a few bucks or more than that. I had no idea the price could get jacked up so much just by taking the highway from Fremont Street to the airport. Wow. Breathtaking.

      Reply
  6. dewey089

    NIce article. I use the buses when traveling solo. With a senior discount, I get unlimited access for 15 days for $17, and there is not tipping. However, last trip I took a cab from the Orleans to Aria and I was surprised how easy that was. It was under ten dollars. I’d do that again even solo.

    Reply
  7. Nathan Davis

    The last time I went to Vegas I followed the advice posted here about telling the cab driver “no tunnel” when going to the New York hotel. I specifically asked to take Swenson to Tropicana…I did some Google mapping and found that to be the shortest route. He immediately replied, “too much traffic – construction”. The little Asian man that drove me became argumentative right off the bat. I didn’t really have the nerve to just get back out of the car, so I let him take me through the tunnel. Needless to say, anyone that has been to Vegas knows that you can see the Luxor, Excalibur, and NY NY from the airport, so it’s practically no distance at all, but he proceeded to go south to the highway and went all the way up I-15 to Tropicana. I’m guessing it probably took 5-10 minutes longer at least, and it’s several miles farther. On the way there, I looked up the route I had chosen on my phone and there were no traffic issues. So, I gave him the exact amount for the cab fare and no tip, which was probably close to what I would have paid anyway. I guess I need to be a bit more stern with the driver next time. That’s only happened to me once though. Other experiences have been much better. Friendly cabbies telling me stories and talking about great places to eat. They always get a nice tip. :-)

    Reply
    1. Gray Cargill Post author

      Oh, Nathan, I’m so sorry! I’m angry on your behalf! That jerk! Those are the kind of drivers that give all Vegas cabbies a bad name. It’s so unfair to the good ones (and to us, of course).

      Reply

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