LAS VEGAS (AP) — Clark County taxicab drivers taking tourists on the scenic route to and from the airport overcharged their passengers an estimated $14.8 million last year, according to a legislative audit released Monday.
The report said the Nevada Taxicab Authority needs to do more to prevent these roundabout rides, which are meant to run up the meter and accounted for 22.5 percent of the 2,730 airport trips that auditors reviewed.
"Taxicab trips are often the first and last experience tourists have in Las Vegas," auditors wrote. "Therefore, long hauling may result in tourists having a negative experience."
A ride from the airport to casinos on the southern end of the Las Vegas Strip, such as the MGM Grand, should cost between $12 and $17, while a ride from the airport to downtown should run between $22 and $27, according to taxicab regulators. Unsuspecting tourists may be paying quite a bit more if their driver intentionally takes a circuitous route.
The director of the taxicab authority, which oversees the 16 cab companies in Clark County and their estimated 9,000 drivers, said his administration accepted the recommendations and would take steps to address the findings.
"The audit of internal processes and procedures yielded valuable information that will assist the Taxicab Authority in achieving its mission," authority administrator Charles Harvey said in a statement.
The report said the authority had not audited individual taxicab companies for more than 3 1/2 years, making it difficult for the authority to ensure companies are following the law. State auditors said more than half of the 600 driver trip sheets they reviewed didn't have the proper time stamps that would ensure drivers aren't working too many hours and taking to the roads while fatigued.
While the Legislature allocated more funds in 2003 so the authority could audit the cab companies, authority managers were assigning staff members to other tasks instead of audits, the report said.
Auditors also recommended the authority keep better tabs on its inventory of medallions — the metal plates that authorize a taxi to operate. One company received an extra medallion and kept it for about 14 months, the report said, while another reported two-thirds of its medallions had been lost or stolen since 2006.
Each permanent medallion generates about $190,000 in gross revenue each year, officials said.
Sloppy records could allow taxi companies to gain an unauthorized share of the market, and make it difficult for taxicab authority board members to determine whether they should authorize more cabs on the road.
Having too few medallions means passengers would have to wait too long for their ride, while having too many leaves too little work for drivers and encourages them to long haul to make up for lost revenue, the report said.
A bill that would have ramped up penalties for long hauling, AB329, has died in the Legislature. The proposal called for doubling the penalty on drivers caught long hauling, and penalized their employers.
Current law fines drivers for the practice, and only fines employers who require or knowingly permit long hauling.
Lawmakers didn't immediately respond to inquiries Monday afternoon about why the bill failed.
A group of taxi drivers on strike from the Yellow-Checker-Star cab company plans to protest the bill's failure Tuesday in Carson City.
"Taxicab drivers don't want to long haul, but they're forced to, to make any money," said Dennis R. Arrington, president of the union representing the drivers.
Arrington said he feels companies are pressuring drivers to long haul, although he didn't provide specifics of how that was happening and said he wasn't aware of any official union complaints on the matter.
The taxicab authority is required to respond to the audit with a plan of action by July 17. It's also required to follow up with a six-month progress report by Jan. 17.