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Ricardo Torres
 

Taxi drivers stage peaceful protest against Uber on the Strip

30 May 2015

Union cabdrivers for Yellow Checker Star, the second-largest taxi company operating in Clark County, staged a peaceful protest on the Strip that even company management praised.

Dozens of drivers marched with signs on Las Vegas Boulevard near Caesars Palace for a little more than an hour Friday to protest the Nevada Legislature’s approval of the regulation of transportation network companies, including Uber.

Uber, a company that enables consumers to hail rides with their smartphones, has been battling to re-enter the Nevada market since shutting itself down in November after losing a court case.

Lawmakers approved two bills that enable Uber to operate in the state. Gov. Brian Sandoval signed them late Friday. One of the bills would place the regulation of transportation network companies under the Nevada Transportation Authority, which regulates limousines, buses, tow trucks, moving companies and taxis outside of Clark County.

Cabdrivers are furious with the prospective entrance of Uber into the market because they fear driver numbers would be unregulated and cabbies and their owners expect Uber to try to flood the market with cars.

There are around 3,000 cabs regulated in Clark County by the Nevada Taxicab Authority. Uber has indicated it would try to get between 10,000 and 15,000 contracted drivers on the road in Southern Nevada.

Yellow Checker Star managers were on edge after previous confrontations with the Industrial, Technical and Professional Employees Union Local 4873, which on Thursday called for a work stoppage and demonstration on the Strip.

Shaun Sohacki, 36, drove other cabbies to the protest on his day off.

“I’m supporting my brothers in arms against Uber,” he said. He acknowledged that the service implementation is imminent and worries that “they’re going to kill our business.”

Sohacki noted that he initially supported Uber as a service for locals until he realized they would eventually operate like regular taxis, he said. “It takes time to become a cabdriver and money.”

Previous protests by union drivers resulted in streets being blocked and other civil disobedience, but Friday’s demonstration was orderly and without confrontation.

“It was one of the union’s finest hours,” said Bill Shranko, chief operating officer of Yellow Checker Star.

“It couldn’t have gone any better and I couldn’t have been more pleased. They made the points they needed to make about Uber without giving Las Vegas a black eye,” he said.

Shranko credited Local 4873 President Dennis Arrington, union steward Sam Moffitt and local union leader Ruthie Jones for leading a responsible protest that called attention to the issue without harming the city’s tourism economy.

Shranko said the company made it clear to drivers that company management didn’t condone any actions that would lead to traffic disruptions while acknowledging that they had the right to demonstrate. He added that there would be no disciplinary action taken by the company or the Taxicab Authority for those who protested.

The protest was staged along the sidewalk in front of Caesars Palace.

Pedestrians on the sidewalk were allowed to pass without confrontation by the drivers, carrying signs that said, “Help keep Nevada roads safe,” and “Protect our jobs. Protect your safety.”

At one point, some drivers chanted, “No Uber,” while others responded, “Not needed.”

Cars along the boulevard honked their approval.

A mobile billboard truck driver stopped in front of the protest and held a “Go Uber” sign. Other pedestrians asked each other what Uber was while some shouted in support of the service: “I love Uber,” one said.

Union officials say Uber operates un­licensed with less insurance than cabdrivers and aren’t as scrutinized as cabdrivers in background checks.

They also criticized Uber’s policy of dynamic pricing — called “surge pricing” by critics — of raising rates when drivers are busier.

Cabbies also fear that an oversupply of Uber drivers on the streets would result in fewer fares for all drivers and the inability to make a good wage.

Fewer than 100 protesters were present and Sohacki said he wished more would have been there.

“We have to band together,” he said while pointing at cabs riding along Las Vegas Boulevard.

“We need to be a lot stronger.”