I arrived at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas at 5.30pm last Thursday, or 1.30am in the morning UK time. My destination was the Mandalay Bay hotel which is the first property on the Las Vegas ‘strip’. It is so close to the airport that it effectively backs onto it.
I jumped into a cab with a sensible-looking middle-aged female driver. She asked me if I had any preferred route.
In London, taxi drivers often ask you if you have any preferred route. It is just insurance for them, in case they end up caught in a massive traffic jam. They gave you the chance to pick the way but you turned them down, so you can hardly blame the driver ….
What I didn’t realise is that, in Las Vegas, this phrase is actually a secret code. There is only one direct route from the airport to the Strip. However, there is a substantially longer alternative route which involves using the interstate (ie the motorway). I didn’t know that at the time.
Being a good Londoner, I said that I did not have a preferred route and that she could use her judgement. Off we went down the interstate for a long ride. I was a little surprised, when we arrived at the hotel, to find that it was directly adjacent to the airport.
However, I paid the bill ($30 inc tip) and was on my way.
The next morning, I read this post from US site One Mile At A Time. Ben, the author, was at the conference with me and he was fully aware in advance of this scam. I had learned my lesson.
Heading back to the airport on Sunday evening, the driver did not ask me for a preferred route. He just set off. Intriguingly, despite the fact that the airport is opposite the hotel, he set off in a different direction and 2 minutes later was easing onto the interstate.
At that point, I asked “Why are we taking the interstate?”. He was startled but had no obvious answer. I then said “Doesn’t the taxi commission state that there is no justification for taxi drivers taking passengers down the interstate?”.
The driver suddenly got very apologetic. He clearly thought that I was planning to report him to the taxi commission and put his job on the line. He told me not to worry about the meter reading and that he would ‘sort something out’.
When we got to McCarran, he asked for $16 instead of the $24 on the meter. Amusingly, when I gave him a $20 bill, he thought that he would keep the change. I soon set him right on that – although I did give him a $2 tip.
Do bear this in mind if you are travelling to Las Vegas soon ….
For the record, I took two other taxi trips in Vegas. Down the Strip to their London Eye clone, and back up the strip to the hotel. On both occasions, the taxi driver decided that driving straight down the Strip was not the best route to take …..
PS. As regular Vegas visitors will know, there is a monorail which runs up and down the strip, connecting many of the hotels. It would have been relatively cheap and incredibly easy to connect this to the airport. Apparently the influence of the Las Vegas taxi drivers union is the reason that it does not.
PPS. Don’t bother trying to call Uber either – they’re banned. Guess why.