Life in the Slow Lane

Vegas certainly isn't the first to wrestle with the disruptive force of ride share services. And it certainly won't be the last.
01/31/2014 12:10 pm ET Updated Apr 02, 2014

Las Vegas promises to offer visitors anything they desire. Shopping, parties, clubs, restaurants and theme parks all await. But the reality is the single goal of Vegas is to attract gamblers and extract money from them.

More than 40 million passengers come through McCarran International Airport every year. They arrive just 2.4 miles away from the Strip casinos -- roughly a six-minute cab ride - but as soon as you step off the plane you're immediately greeted by slot machines. Everything in Vegas is obviously designed to get visitors gambling as quickly as possible. That is, everything except transportation.

When I made the trip down for this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES), I immediately queued up in a 45-minute taxi line. The only upside was the rare breath of fresh desert air and a reprieve from the nonstop noise emanating from the slot machines.

Given the sheer size of CES, the long wait wasn't shocking. Been there, done that. But the idea of the long delay seems anathema to a city founded on instant gratification. The long wait for a cab gave me time to catch up on Twitter, which led to another thing that wasn't all that surprising: The hashtag #VegasNeedsUber was trending locally.

As in every city where innovative ridesharing services like Lyft, SideCar and Uber have found resistance, Uber had launched a social mobilizing campaign to get the attention of regulators. In most U.S. cities, the taxi industry has cemented its influence amongst regulators. Sin City is no different.

The major roadblock for Uber in Vegas is a mandate that town car services and limos must charge riders by the hour with a one-hour minimum, averaging just north of $40.

Like most regulations, the by-the-hour mandate no doubt came about through good intentions. But since Uber -- whose vehicles are owned by their drivers and not the company -- offers town cars and SUVs (which are evidently counted as town cars), the local regs block Uber from providing its services in the city. For a group of ten, grabbing a limo makes sense. For one or two people, a quick click for a town car would be a welcome alternative to a 45-minute wait for a taxi, but $40 for a six-minute trip is absurd if you're just looking to get to the tables or the CES floor a little more quickly.

Vegas certainly isn't the first to wrestle with the disruptive force of ride share services. And it certainly won't be the last. But as regulators there and elsewhere tackle the dilemma, they'd be wise to follow the angle California regulators took last year in working with both traditional car services and upstart startups like Uber to find a regulatory win-win that works for the taxi industry and consumers alike. The regulatory framework is already in place. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and I'm sure the California PUC would be thrilled to know that other regulators are following their lead.

There's no reason ride share services shouldn't operate in Las Vegas, the city that was built upon the same entrepreneurial spirit that drove the creation of Uber and its competitors.