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How I was ripped off by the Las Vegas taxi drivers mafia

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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.

Comments (61)

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  • sandgrounder says:

    I think ‘taxi mafia’ is more accurate than ‘taxi driver mafia’. The medallions are in the hands of the operators- drivers are earning a fraction of the price on the meter. To become a taxi driver in Nevada requires a couple of multiple choice tests, a one day awareness course, a medical, English tests and a criminal records check. That’s the way the companies like it- a steady supply of cheap, unskilled labour who keep the real money rolling in- for them. It is not acceptable to overcharge, but most career drivers are probably honest. With such low barriers to entry you are going to get a lot of cowboys passing through, trying to make a fast buck.

    The best way to increase service standards is to scrap quantity controls and increase quality controls. It is then harder to become a taxi driver, but they know what they are doing and they can also buy their own cab. That’s how the London hackney trade are regulated, and it leads to better trained drivers with enough invested in the industry to discourage dishonest practices which threaten their hard-won licence.

  • Godot says:

    A bit tangentual, but for anyone looking for a very good read, the Las Vegas Cabbie Chronicles blog is excellent –

  • David says:

    This is one of my biggest bug bears in LV! From the airport to strip for me now is an automatic “Take Paradise”, even if they insist traffic is good on the interstate. To be fair, I was once running super late and needed to get from Caesar’s to airport with about 10 mins to spare, during daytime traffic. Taxi driver realised I was in a huge rush, took Frank Sinatra Dr (I was on the E Flamingo Exit of Caesar’s) and got to the airport with the meter reading $12! Cabbie got a big tip.

    In terms of threatening to report – why not actually go through with reporting? Just because they give you the back down and lower the fare doesn’t mean they will stop doing it to other tourists.

  • Dan Brice says:

    I hate to say it but you probably brought this one on yourself. It’s nothing specific to Vegas, I’ve had this attempted on me in Canada, Asia, Europe… you should always request the most direct route (especially if asked!!), and have an idea what a trip should cost – a ten or fifteen second web search is all that is needed.

  • George Kyriakos says:

    I haven’t been to Vegas for about 15 years now, but what happened to the coaches provided by the hotels?

    The taxis I took during my time weren’t to or from the airport and were all extremely courteous and professional. It feels like a lifetime ago now… Maybe it was a dream!

  • Thywillbedone says:

    Just back from a west coast holiday which included LA, San Francisco and Vegas. I used Uber a lot in LA which made a very big city a lot more navigable – never had to wait for more than 5 mins (eg like you invariably do for hotel arranged cabs) – on the whole, very efficient and cost effective. I also used them a lot in San Francisco. I was surprised to find then that the service is banned in Vegas. Not only that but I have never seen dirtier/unsafe feeling cabs or shifter looking drivers anywhere on my travels – it needs to be sorted out as it sets a bad tone. I’m sure the cab owner mafia will eventually be cracked but the ride sharing companies are prioritising softer target cities to open in.

  • Mark says:

    I thought they were building the wheel opposite the mandalay?

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