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LAS VEGAS -- Las Vegas taxi drivers have long complained that cab companies force them to cheat passengers by taking them the long way, called long-hauling. Now, a former cab company supervisor says his company not only told drivers to do it, they taught them how.
Every day, the I-Team gets calls and emails from drivers saying they are forced to take passengers on the long route or risk being fired. Current and former taxi cops have told the same story for the past three years, adding that their agency won't enforce the laws because long-hauling means millions of dollars a year to the taxi companies, even though it is illegal.
And now, we are hearing it from a taxi insider who says he was fired after he told his drivers to stop stealing from the passengers.
"Through the years, they learned to cull out the honest drivers and that has left them with a big pot of long-haul drivers," said taxi driver supervisor Gary Gubitz.
Gary Gubitz remembers a time not that long ago when Las Vegas taxi drivers could make an honest living without resorting to long-hauling -- taking passengers the long way in order to jack up the fare.
Today, he says, it is not only allowed, it is vigorously encouraged by some cab companies including his former employer, Desert Cab. Gubitz leveled that accusation in a lawsuit filed against Desert.
"They encourage it. If a good, honest driver is coming in with $300 and a dishonest driver comes in with $600, the company is bringing in twice the amount of revenue. So the more the merrier, whether it's breaking the law or not," he said.
The most common starting point is the airport. As the I-Team learned during undercover cab rides, drivers almost always head for the airport tunnel and on to the freeway to get to the Strip, adding several dollars to a typical fare. They rarely ask the passenger for the ok to take the longer route. It happens hundreds of times a day, ripping off tourists and locals alike for millions of dollars every year. Gubitz says every driver knows about it.
"We would hear, 'I took the tunnel to the 15 and the 15 to 95 and the 95 to Flamingo and Flamingo to Boulder Highway. The regular fare going the direct route would be $20, but the long-haul route would be double that," said Gubitz.
After 10 years in the business, he started getting grief at work.
"He made a point of telling his drivers they should not long-haul. We believe what happened to him was specifically because he told his drivers not to long-haul their passengers," said Gubitz's attorney Adam Graff.
This isn't the first time Graff has heard stories about widespread long-hauling, especially within Desert Cab. Another of his clients is Scott Lewis, the former Airport Control Officer for the Taxi Authority. Lewis told the I-Team back in 2008 that he was fired specifically because he continued to write citations to drivers who long-hauled out of the airport.
Lewis says his former enforcement chief, Joe Dahlia, warned him that he would be terminated if he wrote another ticket to a Desert Cab. Lewis is still fighting to get his job back and has filed a civil suit against the TA, which he says is in the pocket of the taxi industry.
"It's not a coincidence. The drivers will tell you it is a common practice for many years and the officers of the TA know it. It goes back to the leadership of the TA. The state is doing everything in its power to stop the truth," said Lewis.
The brand new chairwoman of the board which oversees the Taxi Authority says long-hauling is a major concern. Her proposal is to ask the legislature to increase fines on drivers who get caught.
"I think if you take the profit out of the act, then you help remove the motive. That is where I would like to start," said Chairwoman Iliana Drobkin.
Increasing the fines on drivers will do very little to stop long-hauling without active enforcement. In the year leading to July 2010, there were 26 million cab rides in Las Vegas, but only 149 drivers fined for long-hauling. Scott Lewis says officers have been ordered to not write tickets, and the drivers know it.
"It's all collusion. They are playing with each other," said a former cab driver.
The real problem, according to a veteran cabbie, is that some companies, Desert in particular, pressure drivers to long-haul. Those who don't measure up to the meter take of the long-haulers get fired. He alleges Desert Cab teaches new drivers how to do it.
"They have what the drivers refer to as Cheating School. If you are brand new coming into Desert, they will assign you a time to see this," said the driver. "They are told if they want to keep their job, they have to long-haul."
Some companies, the Frias Taxi Cabs for instance, make a big deal to their drivers about avoiding long-hauling. Statistics on the TA website clearly show that a difference between Ace Cab, a Frias Company, and Desert Cab. The data shows the same number of rides, but Desert averages $3 more per ride, which translates into about $3,000 per cab.
It's big money.
Desert Cab fired Gary Gubitz, because he was involved in two traffic accidents. Gubitz says it was a wrongful termination and is taking the company to court. The I-Team made multiple calls to the attorney for the cab company and to the company itself but did not get a reply, possibly because the matter is headed for litigation. If and when the I-Team hears from Desert, it will air the company's comments.
There are some pretty easy ways to deter long-hauling, and they don't require an army of taxi cops. The Taxicab Authority, however, has shown no interest and probably won't unless the public gets involved in a big way.