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Las Vegas Taxi Long Haul

The photo above is a view of McCarran (the Las Vegas airport) and part of the Las Vegas strip. When you land in Las Vegas, it's difficult not to notice the Las Vegas strip. If you miss the view during landing, you're still going to see parts of it while taxiing to the terminal or even from the terminal (see photo below... Mandalay Bay and Luxor are prominently in view from the C gates.)

The McCarran property actually extends right up to Las Vegas Blvd near Mandalay Bay. A person walking along Las Vegas Blvd. could climb over the fence, land on a runway and walk to the terminal. The runways and taxiways are so long that it's about 2 miles from Las Vegas Blvd. to the airport terminal... so very few tourists walk from the airport to the Las Vegas strip. I've done it twice just to see what it's like. I walked from the airport to a Budget rental car office on the strip once, and walked from the strip to the airport once. The airport wasn't designed for pedestrian traffic so there are some places where you have to walk on the shoulder of the street but it's an easy walk with a small carry on bag. I wouldn't try it with full sized suitcases.

In any case... tourists are landing at McCarran and seeing that the Las Vegas strip is right there. The Luxor pyramid, the golden towers of Mandalay Bay and THEhotel, and the medieval castle Excalibur are very prominent. So one has to wonder why, when the tourist gets into a taxi, the tourist doesn't wonder where the Las Vegas strip went all of a sudden.

LONG HAULING is a serious problem in Las Vegas. If you take a taxi from the airport in Las Vegas (McCarran) to the Las Vegas strip, as about 100,000 tourists do every day, you have at least half a chance of being long hauled. Probably more like 75%. That's based on my experience and the opinions of Las Vegas taxi drivers I've discussed the issue with.

Here's an illustration of the problem, above. The green line shows the route a cab driver should take from the Las Vegas airport (McCarran) to the City Center area of the strip, where Aria, Vdara, Mandarin Oriental, and Veer Towers are located; in between Bellagio and Monte Carlo, across the street from Planet Hollywood. From the airport terminal to Aria is 3.8 miles if the driver takes Swenson to Tropicana to Las Vegas Blvd. The LONG HAUL route, shown in red, is 8 miles. And 99 percent of you aren't going to know the difference, although one fare is about $10 higher than the other, and the time it takes to get there is no different either way. The freeway for 8 miles is no faster than surface streets for 3.8 miles.

An extremely crooked cab driver might take you on an even longer trip. Instead of taking the correct 3.8 mile route (in green), they'll loop you around the south end of the airport (the red line), out to Henderson, and you'll end up almost right back where you started 20 minutes later.

So how do I know I'm being long hauled?

As the maps above illustrate, the direct route from the airport to any of the Las Vegas Blvd. and even the off-strip resorts like Palms and Rio is to take Swenson Street north out of the airport and use the surface streets. (Paradise is a one way into the airport; Swenson is a one way out of the airport.) If you're getting LONG HAULED the cab driver will turn right into a tunnel that goes under the runways at the south end of the airport. You won't see the Las Vegas strip as you should...
because you're going the wrong way.

I took a cab on December 12, 2011 from McCarran to Aria. The driver (Whittlesea Cab 5107) took some odd route that had the meter up past $19 and we were heading westbound on Tropicana passing Paradise... which is where we should have been about 15 minutes previous. This guy looped me around the south end of the airport, then went eastbound (away from the strip), in a big circle similar to the extreme long haul example shown on the map above. Aria should have been a $14 fare, according to the Nevada Taxi Authority web site. The meter showed $25.60. So what do you do?

Long hauling is illegal and is punishable by a $500 fine. Don't let the driver intimidate you, as the Whittlesea Cab driver tried to do to me; telling me that if I didn't pay $25.60 I'd be committing a crime. He committed the crime. This is what I do when I find myself being long hauled:

Tell the driver that you know you're being long hauled and that you're going to call the Nevada Taxi Authority and sign a complaint against him or her unless they charge you the appropriate fare (which you already have looked up on the Nevada Taxi Authority web site.) Remind the driver that you'll be fully reimbursed and that he or she will be fined $500. And that if they receive 3 tickets for long hauling, they lose their job.

Some drivers will argue with you, some will pretend they don't speak English, and most will agree to the proper fare to avoid the $500 fine. In any event, DO NOT TIP the driver who long hauls you. You're being nice enough to let them avoid the $500 penalty.

When you have a stubborn driver... you wait until you arrive at your destination. Take out your cell phone and dial 702-668-4000, which is the Nevada Taxi Authority. (If you call while you're being long hauled, they'll tell you to wait until you arrive at the destination.) Put that number in your cell phone right now, just so you don't forget. If you call after business hours, you'll get a recording telling you to press ONE to report a cab driver. Press one. The person will ask your name, phone number, and if you're willing to sign a complaint against the cab driver. They'll ask where you were picked up, where you went, and how much the meter is showing as the fare. They'll tell you to wait there with the driver. At this point, the driver is pretty much being detained by the Nevada State Police. If they demand you pay the jacked up fare, refuse and tell them a state trooper is on the way (the Nevada Taxi Authority officers are state troopers.)

So far, I've never gone beyond this point. I always offer the driver the chance to charge me the correct fare before I sign a complaint. They've always taken that option because they KNOW what they're doing is wrong and illegal.

I always tip the drivers who don't long haul me. Although I don't tell them ahead of time "don't take the freeway" because then they wouldn't be earning their tip. I'm not going to tip a guy for not ripping me off after I've warned him not to rip me off, you know?

Another traveler to Las Vegas stated that he does the same thing I do, except that instead of offering the driver a chance to charge the correct fare; he tells the driver to either give him the ride for free or face the Taxi Authority. I think this is also a good idea. I've been too nice to these crooks.

Here's an online form you can download and fill out to report a Nevada cab driver for long hauling you.

All Las Vegas taxi drivers know that they are supposed to take the shortest route to your destination unless you make some other request, such as "take the fastest route." In the first map illustration above, however, there is no difference. Going to the center strip via freeway or surface street is going to take the same amount of time; and going via freeway is about double the distance.

The farther you're traveling from the airport, the less significant long hauling becomes; and the more viable the freeway becomes as a faster route. For example, from the airport to downtown (Fremont Street) is about 8 miles by surface street or 10 miles by freeway. So you're looking at fares of either $23 for the direct route or $28 for the freeway route, which will probably be 10 minutes faster.

This all depends on the time of day and traffic conditions, however. Sometimes there is a traffic jam on the freeway and surface street traffic is light. Las Vegas has rush hours just like every other large city, and there may be heavy traffic whichever way you go.

Long hauling should not be dismissed as "the way it is" or "the cost of visiting Las Vegas." The driver is intentionally stealing from you. It's like if your hotel charged you $10 for a bottle of water you never touched. The $10 is not important. The idea of being robbed $10 is what bothers you. Long hauling is a serious problem in Las Vegas, and it will never be remedied until passengers become educated and armed with the Nevada Taxi Authority phone number.

Here's another photo taken from the airport. Ask your cab driver "where did the Las Vegas strip go?" if they long haul you down the freeway. If they say something about "it's not my fault the freeway goes the wrong way" then ask "Why didn't you take Swenson Street northbound out of the airport instead?" (Paradise is a one way into the airport, Swenson is one way out of the airport.) From Swenson they could turn left on Tropicana and it's 2 miles to Las Vegas Blvd. The freeway takes you 2 miles south of the airport into nowhere.

Cab drivers are less likely to but will very possibly long haul you from your hotel TO the airport, or from any destination to any other destination in Las Vegas. They love to get on the freeway when they don't have to. The freeway runs parallel to Las Vegas Blvd. and is about half a mile to a mile to the west. If you're staying anywhere on the strip or at Rio, Palms, Gold Coast, Hard Rock, or Orleans; the driver should not be taking the freeway to the airport. Remember, you loop around two miles south of the airport and then you cover that two miles again getting to the airport. Study an online map of Las Vegas before your trip. You're most likely going to lose money on slot machines and other casino games; don't let taxi drivers take more from you on wild goose chases.