Dale Day's Taxi Tips
On behalf of my approximately 1,500 fellow cabbies when you arrive, welcome to Las Vegas. We hope that when you leave, you'll have good thoughts about our city -- and of us.
This article is meant to give you some idea of what you'll encounter on the streets of Las Vegas and a few tips about how the taxi industry here works.
The Meter, Permit, and Payment
First of all, the Nevada taxi business is governed by the state Taxicab Authority, whose commissioners are appointed by the governor. The TA officers are full-fledged state troopers and their mandate is to protect you, the passenger. They control every phase of the industry, from the meter to the receipt.
You'll see the meter when you enter your cab. The meter has a metal seal in the bottom right-hand corner and, as long as it's intact, you'll be charged with the fare that's displayed on the meter at the end of your ride, as determined by the TA. (If the seal's broken, get out of the cab!)
Each taxi should also have a Taxicab Driver's Permit in a prominent place.
The permit is there for your protection. If, for any reason, you feel that your driver is being unsafe or trying to take advantage of you, get his permit-identification number (in red on the permit) and call the TA at the number posted (702/486-6532). They're open twenty-four hours and will respond to your call. You may also submit complaints online at taxi.state.nv.us. Also for your protection, but even more so for that of the driver, many cabs are now being fitted with security cameras, so be aware that you may be being filmed while on board.
Note that most taxis in Southern Nevada do not accept credit cards as payment and those that do must be specially requested (Taxi Listings). Also, it's often difficult for drivers to make change for $100 bills, so try to have some $20s to pay your fare. And if you need a receipt, please ask the driver at the start of the trip. This gives the driver time to prepare the receipt in advance, filling in the amount at the end so you won't be inconvenienced by having to wait for the whole process. As for asking the cabbie to pad the receipt a bit, most drivers will have no problem putting in whatever amount you ask him or her to.
From the Airport and 'Long-Hauling'
When you catch a taxi from McCarran Airport, a $1.20 tax is added to the meter. The tax isn't charged when you're dropped off at the airport on your way out of town.
There are two ways to leave the airport. One is on a freeway that passes through a tunnel under the runways. Although this route allows higher speeds than surface streets, it may not always be the quickest way to your destination and it always costs from $8 to $12 more. The route heads south through the tunnel, then west to connect with I-15, and finally north to the hotels on the Strip and downtown. Going through the tunnel can cost more than going by surface streets and may not always be faster, especially when traffic merging from the I-215 and I-15 meet. Your driver should give you the option of which way to go. But don't assume that if the driver recommends the tunnel, he's trying to "long-haul" you. Sometimes, because of construction and/or accidents, the surface streets can be clogged up and the "waiting time" on the meter will add up faster than the "distance time." (The meter calculates the fare by combining the mileage and the waiting time, i.e., sitting in traffic or at intersections or asking the cabbie to wait while you go somewhere.)
As anywhere else in the world, Las Vegas taxi drivers can sometimes come up with highly creative ways to get you to your destination. The airport tunnel option is just one of many.
For example, a cabbie might take you onto US95 from Boulder Station or thereabouts to bring you to the airport. The cheapest (and just as fast) way is to take Desert Inn to Paradise and down Paradise to the airport. That should cost under $20. Doing the freeway easily costs $30+. Likewise, the driver should take Sahara or Flamingo directly west to the Strip, rather than getting on the freeway.
One way to avoid being long-hauled is to tell the driver how you want him to go from Point A to Point B (many drivers will ask if you have a preference). But if you're a regular visitor to Las Vegas and know how to get to where you're going, and the driver takes you the long way, simply inform him that you know what he's doing. Say that you know what the fare should be and that's the amount you'll pay, and not a red cent more.
If the driver gets difficult, ask to be put in contact with the Taxicab Authority or a Road Supervisor. Most drivers will do anything to avoid the TA or their supervisors! The road supervisor will make the driver "eat" the fare and most companies will suspend them for a day or two. If the TA shows up, the driver gets a ticket with a very hefty fine plus a possible suspension.
Getting A Cab
With 40 million visitors a year, it can be difficult to get a cab. Here are a few tips.
First, don't try to flag down a taxi from the curb. They're all either loaded and going somewhere or on their way to a call. Also, from day one, the TA stresses that cabbies shouldn't pick up "flags," which represent the highest percentage of cab robberies. If you do manage to get one to stop, he should pull off the street so you can enter the cab safely.
If you're away from a hotel, the best way to get a cab is to call one. Just about every convenience store and bar will phone a cab company for you.
Every hotel in Las Vegas, whether it's on the Strip, downtown, or out in the neighborhoods, has a taxi stand. At times, there are no cabs on the stands on the Strip. How in the world can there be no cabs, you ask? Well, especially in the evening when the traffic is horrendous, the cabs may be caught up in the snarl or are simply trying to accommodate more passengers than there are cars. You just have to be patient. The hotel doorman will call for cabs, and one will show up sooner or later.
You may also get frustrated, after waiting for a cab for a long time, when one pulls in, unloads, and leaves. He's not ignoring you. If you look at the rear fender, you'll see a red plaque. This denotes that the cab is "geographically restricted" and cannot pick up at the airport, the Strip, or downtown. (The Convention Center used to be on the list, but that restriction was lifted in June, 2005.) This is done by the TA so people away from those areas will have a chance to get a cab.
You also have the clear right to decline the next cab in line or the one responding to your call. There doesn't have to be a specific reason. Perhaps you don't like the appearance of the vehicle or the driver. Simply move down the line until you find the vehicle and driver you feel comfortable with.
Cabbies and Money
You should know that the person driving your cab is not the owner, as in other cities. All taxis in Las Vegas are owned by companies and the driver is a commissioned employee of the company. We get a percentage of the meter, less certain trip charges and fuel. So when the meter's not running, we're not making money. As the percentage isn't all that great, some cabbies drive a bit on the reckless side to get to where they can turn the meter on again. Again, if you're having a problem with cabbie's driving, threaten to call the TA or a supervisor.
Las Vegas is a service-oriented town and the majority of people you meet on a visit live on tips. In fact, some visitor magazines and guidebooks try to set a rule for what the tip should be. However, a gratuity is not something that you're required to give. Rather, it should be based on the service you receive. Most taxicab drivers appreciate those who financially show their gratitude, but also understand that the gratitude should be as a reward for a job well done. I certainly appreciate it when the fare gives me $2 or more.
You may have read in the news about "diversion." This refers to many commercial establishments that pay drivers to bring customers to their places. These could be gentlemen's clubs, massage parlors, wedding chapels, and others. The simple fact is this: You cannot be diverted. If you tell the driver that you want to go to a specific locale, he's not permitted to attempt to pressure you into going to another. If he does, he's simply tying to direct you to a place that pays him more than the one you wanted to go to, which is adequate cause for reporting him to the authorities.
The vast majority of taxicab drivers consider ourselves to be ambassadors for the city. The best cabbies always do -- and have done so for hundreds of years. In fact, carriages-for-hire date as far back as the 1700s. The word "cab" comes from a "cabriolet" (cab-ree-o-lay) carriage used in Paris and London to move people in the 18th century. The word "taxi" is derived from a "taximeter" invented in Germany in the 1860s, which recorded the turning of the wheel of a carriage-for-hire so a fare could be charged.
In a time-honored tradition, we do our best to get you to your destination quickly and safely. We also try to provide accurate information about where to go and what to do. But please, do me a favor. Don't ask, "Do you live here?" I have to bite my tongue to keep from responding, "No, I commute every day from Phoenix."
Again, welcome to Las Vegas and enjoy your stay. There's nowhere on Earth quite like it.
Dale Day has been a resident of Las Vegas for nearly 30 years. Now retired, he spent many years driving for Las Vegas Yellow Cab Company.