CARSON CITY -- A limousine lobbyist wants to split the Public Service Commission and create a separate transportation agency, but a cab company manager argued Friday that his industry should be deregulated instead.
During a Senate Commerce and Labor Committee meeting, Harvey Whittemore, representing Bell Limo, detailed a plan to split the PSC and establish a Transportation Service Authority.
"Any Friday night, three to 10 unlicensed limo companies come in (to Las Vegas) from L.A. and say, `Hey, we're available,' " Whittemore said. "The PSC can't deal with that on its existing resources.
"You're putting your customers in an uncertified vehicle," he told lawmakers. "You have a rather significant exposure doing that."
The PSC has the huge task of figuring out how to deregulate the electricity industry while maintaining regulation over transportation, Whittemore said.
Splitting the PSC's functions will allow the commission to focus on the shift to deregulation, while pulling in experts to the new TSA to help fix problems in Nevada's public transportation industry, he added.
The PSC would be in charge of the telephone, gas, electric and water industries, while the new TSA would oversee regulation of limos, taxi cabs, towing companies, household movers and buses.
But Don Drake, manager of Yellow Cab in Reno, said his company has had more trouble with the PSC than with competitors in the taxi business. He said he wants to see the transportation industry deregulated along with the utilities.
"Let's get out of regulating transportation and get out of regulating taxicabs," Drake said.
Drake said Reno also has problems with "gypsy" companies coming into town and stealing the business of certified drivers.
"I went to the PSC to complain and they said they're charged with regulating regulated carriers and these are not regulated carriers so they can't do anything," Drake said.
William Morris, representing the Vegas Western Cab Co., said lawmakers should leave the PSC as it is because "if it's not broke, don't fix it.
"And it's far from being broke," Morris said. "Leave it alone."
Morris said the 1,100 taxis belonging to 13 companies in Las Vegas compete fiercely with each other and with the 200 to 300 illegal limos that come into the city on weekends.
But the way to deal with those drivers is to impound their vehicles, he said, adding, "In L.A. there are illegal cabs in the streets but zero illegal cabs at the airport because if they don't have a certificate, they impound them."
"But all over the city they paint cars yellow and pick up customers but have no insurance, you don't know if they have a criminal record, don't know if they're doing drugs," he added.
COLUMN: John L. Smith
Can a little guy succeed in the highly competitive and politically charged Southern Nevada cab business?
Richard Flaven is in the long process of finding out.
Flaven, 39, already has spent more than $50,000 in his thus far futile attempt to license a cab stand in Boulder City. Despite some pretty obvious qualifications, he continues to debate the state Taxicab Authority, which in November rejected his bid to become the first new licensee in Southern Nevada in a quarter century.
Flaven's big taxi plans?
A two-cab company.
In rejecting Flaven's application, the Taxicab Authority did nothing untoward or even out of the ordinary. In fact, it acted in precise compliance with state laws, which mandate that it protect existing companies to the extent of preventing increased competition. In other words, the Taxicab Authority protects its own within the hacker fraternity.
Protection from a two-car operation?
Now for the applicant's qualifications.
Flaven himself is no outsider to the cab business. In his day job, he works as a Taxicab Authority compliance officer at McCarran International Airport.
"If you get in trouble as a driver, I'm the one who shows up," Flaven says.
In fact, taxicab regulation runs in his family. His father, Robert Flaven, is the Taxicab Authority's chief investigator.
The upstart applicant also owns a Southern Nevada landscaping outfit, so it figures he is well acquainted with the distinctive aroma of fertilizer. As Richard Flaven struggles to maneuver through the politically charged licensing process, these days the pungency must be overwhelming.
Such work experience doesn't impress the Taxicab Authority, which by law welcomes established companies to object to license applicants by intervening in the hearing process. Such was the case with diminutive Boulder Cab.
As if the addition of a pair of for-hire hacks in the mix would somehow upset the delicate balance of trade in Southern Nevada, changing the course of mighty rivers, shifting tides and bankrupting nations, several local cab companies objected to Flaven's application.
That was enough to set off the sirens at the Taxicab Authority, but then something interesting happened.
Flaven agreed to run one cab in Boulder City and another at the Galleria Mall in Henderson. He also agreed not to apply to expand his territory for several years.
With those compromises, Flaven watched as company after company withdrew its opposition.
Damn decent of them, don't you think?
But then Flaven had to deal with the Taxicab Authority. Perhaps the august regulators believed that Flaven's tiny taxi company was doomed to fail. Maybe they believed he was underfinanced, which would have been interesting considering the $50,000 he was forced to dole out to apply for a license.
Whatever the good and legal reason, Flaven's bid for licensure was rejected in November. He reapplied in January, and his case will be heard at the authority's May meeting.
At Wednesday's meeting, a licensee's bid to expand service to Boulder City was rejected while the Taxicab Authority considers Flaven's application.
So the upstart is still alive.
If you've ever tried to get cab service in a residential area in a timely manner -- and wound up waiting more than an hour -- then you know the need is real. But it's not as easy as allowing a guy who is obviously qualified a chance to join an exclusive club of Southern Nevada cab operators.
It is, however, a system Richard Flaven is willing to work with.
"It's a long process," Flaven says, choosing his words judiciously. "That's my feeling. It's very long. But it means everything to me. To have an opportunity to serve the public and to build a stronger company than what I have, that's everything. The victims are the residents. They're the ones not receiving the service."
If a little guy can muster the stamina to endure the process, then he deserves his two cabs -- and a case of Excedrin, too.
John L. Smith's column appears Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. He can be reached at John_L._Smith@lvrj.com