Cabbies and Kickbacks - Monday 6th of February 2006

An Assembly bill intended to prohibit kickbacks to cabbies for delivering passengers to strip clubs and other nighttime hotspots is likely to end up benefiting taxi drivers in the long haul.

As a result of the backlash from Assembly Bill 505, which Gov. Kenny Guinn vetoed in June after taxicab drivers threatened to strike, the Clark County Commission will discuss today whether to amend or eliminate a similar county restriction on such practices.

"I think any time a policy is being questioned, you need to take another look at it," commission Chairman Rory Reid said.

The Clark County Liquor Code was amended in 1985 to prohibit liquor license holders from providing "any tip, gift, or gratuity of any kind to any taxicab driver for the delivery of any passenger to the business location of the licensee."

Nancy Hancock, management analyst for the county Business License Department, said the commission will be presented with three options: Leave the restriction alone; expand it to include limousines and other modes of paid transportation; or eliminate it altogether.

Either of the proposed changes would benefit cabbies, Taxicab Authority spokesman Rob Stewart said.

"It's going to be more equitable one way or the other," he said.

The county restriction is similar to the one proposed in AB505, which stated that drivers should not be allowed to "accept a tip, gift, gratuity, money fee or any other valuable consideration of any kind" from any business licensed by a county, a city or any local government licensing board.

Some of Southern Nevada's 5,000 cabdrivers have estimated that strip club bounties generally between $5 and $25 per customer account for as much as 30 percent of their take-home pay.

AB505 at first dealt solely with the elimination of the Transportation Services Authority and the transfer of its duties to the Public Utilities Commission.

But on the second-to-last day of the legislative session, the amendment banning this particular form of tips for taxi drivers was offered by Assembly Assistant Majority Leader John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas. A Senate-Assembly conference committee accepted the amendment, and both chambers approved the bill by voice vote.

Its purpose was to prevent cabbies from diverting passengers to businesses that reward them, according to Oceguera.

But Craig Harris, a veteran Las Vegas cabdriver and managing editor of Trip Sheet, a publication that covers taxicab industry issues, called it a "sneaky amendment" that was biased against his industry because it did not include limousine and shuttle bus drivers, doormen or anyone else.

As a result of the county code, which Harris contends contains the same bias, some hotel doormen usher nightclub-bound patrons away from waiting cabs and into limousines because "the limo driver will provide a kickback to the doorman."

Still, the county has not been enforcing the restriction since Guinn's veto, with officials opting to defer enforcement until all jurisdictions can agree on how to approach the issue.

Harris suggested that the ordinance be amended to specifically prohibit the diversion of passengers to other locations, but not the kickbacks themselves. He said it should apply to limousines and shuttles as well as taxicabs.

"Make it uniform among all the transportation people," Harris said

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