As Las Vegas reopens, Taxicab Authority scrambles to keep customers, industry satisfied

As Las Vegas reopens, Taxicab Authority scrambles to keep customers, industry satisfied

  • John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports
June 30, 2021 10:34 PM
  • John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports

Those searching for insight into the challenges facing the Las Vegas ride industry need have looked no further than last week’s Nevada Taxicab Authority meeting.

The meeting inside the Nevada State Business Center on West Sahara Ave. provided a reminder of the cab industry’s diminished, but still vital, role in the gaming and tourism economy. Representatives of the industry aired a variety of concerns. Members of the TA board put Interim Administrator J.D. Decker through his paces. Chief Investigator Ruben Aquino offered a mixed review of drivers’ reporting traffic accidents and unauthorized cabs on the street.

With the pandemic cooling and visitor volume increasing – although still way down from 2019 – the call has gone out for more drivers. During her report to the board, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority Traffic Manager Maria Tamayo-Soto described a hectic but successful scramble to bring sufficient numbers of cabs to the Convention Center to accommodate attendees at the recent World of Concrete trade show. It sounds like it was probably a good thing attendance this year was off compared to pre-pandemic events.

While the industry fights multiple battles, the TA is also under pressure to perform at a high level despite a shortage of investigators and what can only be described as an uncertain future as a state agency.

In short, it was business as usual in a business that’s rapidly changing at a time that’s anything but usual.

By its own description, the TA is “a unique regulatory agency” that’s “committed to ensuring the wellbeing and safe passage of the taxi-riding public.” Despite substantial erosion of the cab companies’ passenger share due to the popularity of Uber and Lyft, 16 cab companies jockey on the street for a piece of a dynamic market that’s finally kicking into gear as the pandemic subsides. The industry employs 10,000 drivers and keeps a fleet of 3,000 in motion, according to TA stats.

By Antoine Taveneaux – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

In addition to competition from ride-share operators, just a few years ago, the industry was rocked by controversy. Ileana Drobkin resigned as chair of the TA board in March 2016 amid a quagmire over cabs long-hauling customers. State auditors issued what was called a scathing audit of the board the previous January, noting that TA officials had allowed the cab industry to overcharge passengers approximately $47 million a year and had let some operators flood the streets with vehicles.

It was the wrong news at the wrong time for the cab companies. The audit concluded that control of the TA should be shifted to either Clark County or the Nevada Transportation Authority, which currently regulates limousines and buses, household-goods movers, and tow vehicles. Drobkin departed, but not before calling the allegations misleading.

That hasn’t happened, in no small part because of the efforts of the current board and officials who appear to appreciate the importance of the TA to the riding public and the image of the taxi industry.

Drobkin was replaced by Stan Olsen, who brought to the job a wealth of experience in law enforcement and working the halls of the state legislature. At a time when some critics were calling for the TA’s closure, Olsen embarked on a substantial makeover with a no-nonsense board and an approach that, until the COVID-19 crisis, seemed to be working for the industry and the public.

The change has led to an improved focus on efficiency, even as the industry is being battered by ride-share competition. It obviously hasn’t hurt to have two ex-members of law enforcement, Olsen and board member David Groover, on the panel.

Staffing at the TA was streamlined due to budget necessity and the frequency of state-trained officers leaving for better-paying duty.

Although his tenure as chairman wasn’t yet up, Thursday’s meeting was scheduled to be Olsen’s last. New board appointees, Reno attorney Dan Reaser and retired Metro Lt. Cindy Rodriguez, were about to be announced. It must have seemed like the right time to move on.

Then a strange thing happened. Olsen changed his mind and announced he was staying on a little longer.

Although he wasn’t mentioned by name went in the meeting, Reaser’s appointment to the TA board left Olsen scratching his head. The chairman wondered aloud about the sense of appointing a northern Nevada resident, no matter his qualifications, to a board dedicated to regulating the cab industry in Clark County. (By statute, the TA’s purview applies only to counties with a population of 700,000 or more.)

Las Vegas cab companies have started their engines, but are still searching for enough drivers to meet the surging need for transportation on the Strip and downtown. The TA is still looking for a new administrator. The good news is, taxi ridership is increasing as Las Vegas stirs back to life.

Thursday’s TA meeting ended cordially enough, but now, I’m left wondering what the next one will be like.