The R.V. Column:

More taxis on the streets for upcoming conventions

A taxi cab drives down the Strip Thursday, April 28, 2011.

Richard N. Velotta

Richard N. Velotta

The Nevada Taxicab Authority had a special meeting last week to reverse a cab allocation decision involving additional taxis during the Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show and the Adult Entertainment Expo.

Between the two shows, which have overlapping dates, an estimated 75,000 conventioneers will be in the city.

Reconsiderations on allocations are a rarity — so much that the board’s legal adviser from the Attorney General’s Office even had to dust off state statutes to determine if the appeal was properly filed.

The reconsideration was requested by the Frias Cos., which has four cab companies and is licensed to operate 650 vehicles.

Frias CEO Mark James said he had new evidence to present to the board, which rejected a request for more cabs for those shows at its November meeting.

James’ new evidence and how he presented it could represent a shift in how taxi allocations are perceived and considered by the board. If you’re keeping score, it’s good news for taxi companies, bad news for taxi drivers.

But in James’ book, it’s time to stop keeping score and look at the big picture of how the riding public is best served. The big picture scoreboard is pitting the Las Vegas convention experience against all the cities that are trying to steal business away from us.

James brought third-party testimony to Friday’s Taxicab Authority meeting to bolster his case that with 75,000 additional people in town, the board should allow more cabs on the streets to serve the riding public.

Because the third-party testimony came from experts who were not part of the board’s standard intervention process, they had to be sworn in, which provided a few funny moments because the board secretary, who doesn’t have to swear people in very often, didn’t have the recitation down.

But everybody got through it eventually and the board heard from Steve Patterson, traffic manager of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority; David Sukala, director of corporate sales at the Hard Rock Hotel; and convention transportation consultant Mark Prestage of RPMs.

They each shared how important it was to them for taxi companies to efficiently deliver conventioneers.

Patterson, who frequently appears before the board to report on how cab companies perform at the Las Vegas Convention Center, said when cab lines get long when people are leaving a show for the day, he sometimes passes out – horrors! – free tickets to ride the Las Vegas Monorail.

Sakula had a dog in the allocation fight because his hotel is hosting the Adult Entertainment Expo. He said the property has revamped its taxi staging area to get people in and out of the Hard Rock more efficiently.

Prestage’s company advises show planners about transportation in and out of convention venues and has worked with the companies staging this week’s International Consumer Electronics Show.

When big shows come to town, it’s hard to argue that having more cabs on the streets to serve conventioneers is a bad thing. By statute, the Taxicab Authority operates “for the protection and benefit of the public.” And, as James pointed out, that doesn’t mean the board should be acting in the best interests of cab companies, who see additional cabs on the street as an opportunity to make more money, or for cab drivers, who see additional cabs on the street as a drain on their personal incomes because those thousands of fares and tips are divided among more people.

The board’s 3-1 vote shows members were persuaded to agree that the additional cabs best served the riding public, which is important when you consider Chicago and Orlando are clamoring to steal shows away from Las Vegas and New York is gearing to build a new convention center.

James said he plans to bring more third-party witnesses to future allocation hearings, and he invited the unions representing cab drivers that oppose more cabs to do the same.

The argument third-party advocates opposing allocations would bring would likely involve how the overall health of the taxi industry would suffer as a result of experienced drivers leaving in frustration because they can’t make enough money to pay their bills.

But that argument would be hard to counter when the city is doing all it can to stay on top in the meetings and convention industry.

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