I-Team: Cab Company Boss Defends Long Hauling Allegations - 8 News NOW

Chief Investigative Reporter George Knapp and Photojournalist Matt Adams

I-Team: Cab Company Boss Defends Long Hauling Allegations

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Bill Shranko, Chief Operating Officer of Yellow-Checker-Star Bill Shranko, Chief Operating Officer of Yellow-Checker-Star

Investigative reports by the Eyewitness News I-team recently outlined the extent of long hauling, how little enforcement there is to prevent it, and the friendly relationship between the Nevada Taxicab Authority and the cab companies they supposedly regulate.

Now, the largest of those companies is on the defense. They held a news conference to defend the integrity of the Taxicab Authority, instead of the T.A. defending itself. The top executive at Yellow-Checker-Star blasted the reports, and then proceeded to verify much of what was originally reported.

"The owners are outraged over a story that aired by Channel 8, July 2nd and 3rd. It defamed drivers, the Taxi Authority, and the entire industry," said Bill Shranko, Chief Operating Officer of Yellow-Checker-Star.

Shranko burned thru several pages of his thesaurus in describing the I-Team's reports from last week. He called them irresponsible, inaccurate, offensive, a distortion of the facts, based on poor information and, "We think it crossed the line. We also think it was insulting and cheap sensationalism," he said.

Three reporters attended the news conference, flanked on three sides by employees of Yellow-Checker-Star, Nevada's biggest taxi company.

Shranko wants the inaccuracies to be corrected but, for the most part, his statements reinforced the original reports about long hauling -- which is when drivers take the long way without informing their passengers.

Long hauling isn't exactly a secret. The I-Team interviewed half a dozen current and former taxi authority officers, police, and airport employees who say the problem is bad and getting worse, that the Taxi Authority does little to stop it, and that attempts to enforce the law were stymied because the cab companies lean on the T.A.

Fired T.A. Officer Scott Lewis says he was directly ordered to stop writing citations for long hauling. "We would get memos from the supervisors saying the cab companies were complaining that we were targeting their cabs and harassing them," he said.

Former airport Sergeant Larry Johnston said his bosses took away their assigned vehicles so any enforcement they tried on taxis would be on foot.

Since the stories ran, dozens of taxi drivers have written or called to admit that long hauling is common, that they engage in it, and that they need to do it to keep their daily average up with the others who do the same.

Former driver turned lobbyist Randy Hynes says most of the drivers who take the long way through the airport tunnel, adding four miles to any trip to the Strip, know they are stealing. "I don't think I've ever flown into Las Vegas, gotten off and not heard a tourist telling another tourist to be careful of the cabbies about them going through the tunnel. It's embarrassing. It's a black eye to Las Vegas," he said.

Shranko says all of these people -- officers, drivers, and others -- are wrong and that long hauling is a small problem. When pressed about how much of it goes on, he admits he has no idea. "It could be 1 or 2-percent. Here's my point -- neither you, nor I, nor the two T.A. officers know how much takes place. The only persons who can verify are customers in the cab," he said.

Shranko says his company does very little to spot check drivers for long hauling. The same is true for the Taxi Authority. According to the state, of the 26 million rides taken last year in Las Vegas, the T.A. handed out only 71 citations for long hauling. The odds of a driver being caught are about the same as hitting the lottery. A driver who gets permission from his passenger to take the long way isn't breaking the law, but according to the drivers themselves, this simply is not happening.

Back in 2002, former T.A. boss John Plunkett conducted a months-long probe and estimated that 60 to 80-percent of the trips from the airport are long hauls.

Shranko said he is unfamiliar with those numbers. "We're not saying it doesn't happen. We're just saying with our cab company we put more effort into not ripping off the public," he said.

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