As We See It

A war of words and wheels: The Uber battle has begun

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More than 14,500 people have signed an online petition asking the governor and attorney general to support Uber in Nevada.
Photo: Corlene Byrd

In theory, ride-share app Uber is incredibly simple: You need a ride somewhere; you turn on the Uber app; it finds a driver of a private vehicle; you’re picked up, taken where you want to go and you pay without any money changing hands—all done electronically, with the driver receiving 80 percent of the fare. And as a company, Uber appears responsible, hiring drivers only after extensive background checks and insuring each driver for $1 million, from the time they turn on the app to when they drop off their last passenger.

But in reality, Uber is incredibly messy—at least in Nevada. The gargantuan company—active in 222 cities and 46 countries—launched in Las Vegas and Carson City/Reno on October 24, and by the end of the day, the state’s response was clear: We don’t want you here.

Nevada’s taxi lobby went into high gear, and state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto filed a temporary restraining order against Uber statewide on behalf of the Nevada State Transportation Authority. Uber now finds itself involved in a multitude of court hearings—one on November 6 in Carson City, another in Washoe County on November 12 and one that happened on October 29 (the results of which were not available at press time). In the meantime, 11 Uber drivers have already been cited and their vehicles impounded. (Uber says it will pay all the fines, which can reach $10,000 per incident.)

If Nevada’s reaction seems a bit strong, consider this: The Nevada Taxicab Authority claims Uber is breaking the law because it’s not operating under the same rules that cab drivers adhere to. It hasn’t gotten Authority-issued permits for drivers, and it doesn’t have a certificate of conveyance for the company.

But spokesperson Eva Behrend says that Uber is not a taxi service—it’s a ride-share system, adding that California and Colorado already have laws on the books that establish ride-sharing as a separate transportation entity. “They passed those laws as a result of us coming in, but that’s because nobody had contemplated this model before,” Behrend says.

While Uber and the Silver State square off in a war of words and wheels, “hundreds” of Uber drivers face continuing retaliation from the taxi industry. Just ask Uber driver Michael Eisner, whose car was surrounded on Fashion Show Drive by five unmarked Nevada Taxicab Authority vehicles last Friday.

Despite the drama, Behrend says Uber isn’t going anywhere. She adds that drivers have already given “thousands” of rides originating outside the Las Vegas Strip, and more than 14,500 people have signed an online petition asking the governor and attorney general to support Uber in Nevada. Adding fuel to the pro-ride-share fire: last week’s 8 percent taxicab rate hike, which made Vegas cabs more expensive than New York’s (where Uber launched back in 2011).

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Ken Miller is Las Vegas Magazine's managing editor, having previously served as associate editor at Las Vegas Weekly, assistant features ...

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