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Hidden camera exposes taxi 'long-haul' scheme

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LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -

Taxicabs are a lifeline for southern Nevada's tourism industry, transporting thousands of visitors from the airport to Strip properties each day.

But time and time again, riders are taken there by cabs heading south through the Airport Connector tunnel, a route which allows drivers to charge more.

The long hauling problem is one of the biggest challenges the Nevada Taxicab Authority's new administrator, Charles Harvey, faces.

When he took the post in May, Harvey knew his top priority was taking on the issue.

"One of the first things I wanted to do was take a closer look at it and try and gauge how much of a problem it actually was," Harvey said.

So Harvey and others with the TA started taking rides from the airport to the Strip and back, posing as everyday riders.

"On occasion we have been on the recipient end of long hauling, but more times than not we've had a fair ride," Harvey told FOX5.

A fair ride meaning the most direct route.

For example, Harvey says on a trip from McCarran to the Bellagio, the driver should take Swenson to Tropicana to Las Vegas Boulevard.

However, a taxi driver can take an alternative route, as long as he or she asks the passenger.

"The statute says that the driver cannot take a passenger on a longer route than necessary unless the passenger requests it," Harvey said.

When that doesn't happen, it hurts the entire industry, especially other drivers.

"The people that are long hauling are making the honest cab driver look bad," said driver Brandon Sparling.

Sparling says long hauling can sometimes cause more long hauling.

When dishonest drivers are earning more money, it puts pressure on honest drivers to keep up with fare averages, which some companies demand.

"If you don't keep up with the average, you get suspended or even fired after a while, and those guys make it tough for the guys who aren't long hauling to keep up with the average and most likely keep a job," Sparling told FOX5.

FOX5 went undercover, taking several rides from the airport to the Bellagio to see how prevalent long hauling is.

Drivers have until the intersection at Wayne Newton Boulevard and Paradise to ask if a passenger wants to take the Airport Connector tunnel.

Once we arrived there on our first trip, our driver did not ask the question, and turned south.

It was only after the driver made the turn that he said the freeway was faster.

According to Google Maps, he's right; taking the freeway is faster, but only by about a minute.

However, it's also longer - by almost three additional miles - increasing the fare to $26.10.

Our ride back from the Bellagio to the airport was $13.10, almost half the price of the first trip.

That's because on our return trip, our driver took the direct route, via Tropicana and Swenson.

Drivers hear the same long hauling story from passenger after passenger.

"In the last week I've had three different customers from the Platinum Hotel complain about being long hauled from the airport," Sparling, said.

In 2011, the Taxicab Authority received about eleven-hundred long hauling complaints.

Harvey believes there's even more cases they don't hear about.

That's why the TA is trying to get more information to the passengers, putting up signs letting them know their rights.

And Harvey says he will continue to run undercover stings.

"I think it's been a deterrent... and I think the more of these proactive steps that we take, the less this problem will be out there," Harvey told FOX5.

We filed a complaint with Frias Transportation Management - the parent company which manages Virgin Valley Cab - concerning the car that took us the long way.

The company did its own investigation.

John Hickman, the Chief Operating Officer, told FOX5 the driver in this case had a history of violating company policies, and that he has since been terminated.

Hickman also gave FOX5 a full refund.

If believe you or someone you know was long hauled, Harvey says the Nevada Taxicab Authority can help get a refund, by filing a complaint: http://taxi.state.nv.us/ComplaintInstructions.htm.

Copyright 2012 KVVU (KVVU Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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