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THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 25, April 1, 1997

Too Many Taxicabs

By Vin Suprynowicz
vin@lvrj.com

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

         Has there ever been a clearer demonstration of the way regulatory agencies, foisted on the public as measures to "protect" the consumer, in fact "protect" only the right of the regulated firms to be free of competition?
         Drive up and down the Las Vegas Strip, or in and out of McCarran Airport, and you might agree at first glance that Las Vegas has plenty of taxicabs. Those are, after all, the most lucrative routes to which cabbies can swarm.
         But try to find -- or even call for -- a cab in almost any other part of this one-million-population Valley, and it can be another story.
         Why? Because -- just as in New York, and every other urban capital of garbage-strewn American statism -- Nevada has a government "Taxicab Authority," designed to keep prices high by creating an eternal shortage of cabs.
         Where did we get the idea that some government agency should determine for us the "proper" number of anything available in the private sector?
         Are there "too many" pizza places in this town? Quite possibly, if by "too many" we mean that a fair number of stores seem to go out of business each year, thanks to narrow profit margins enforced by the fact that -- should Tony's try to charge $16 for a large -- Roberto's down the street is likely to steal all their customers away by advertising the same thing for $12.
         Would it thus be a good idea to establish a Nevada Pizza Authority, scientifically determining the "ideal" number of pizza restaurants to be allowed in each square mile?
         Once one neighborhood pizza place had paid several thousands of dollars for its pizza license under such a system, of course, it could be expected to show up and testify against the "economic chaos" which would surely result if any second pizza parlor were ever permitted to set up shop in its "protected market." Waitresses would be regularly paraded down to the hearings, showing off the blubbering infants who (the commissioners would be solemnly assured) would surely starve if their struggling moms were "thrown out in the street" by the threatened "excessive competition."
         Such a scheme sounds absurd on its face. Yet it's accepted without question when the commodity is taxicabs.
         Richard Flaven ought to know the ins and outs of the business -- and where the market would support another entrepreneur. Mr. Flaven, 39, is a Taxicab Authority compliance officer at McCarran Airport.
         His father, Robert Flaven, is the Taxicab Authority's chief investigator.
         When Mr. Flaven applied last fall for the required license to operate two cabs out of cab stands in Boulder City and Henderson's Galleria Mall -- the southernmost suburbs of Greater Las Vegas -- one might have expected the state Taxicab Authority to check, perhaps, and make sure no "employee preference" was being shown one of their own.
         But that wasn't the problem at all, as reported by author and Review-Journal columnist John L. Smith on March 21. No, the problem was that the taxicab authority hasn't licensed a new cab company in Southern Nevada in a quarter of a century, and sees no reason to start now ... even if the city's population has quadrupled.
         So, having shelled out $50,000 to apply for his license, Mr. Flaven the younger was curtly told last November that his application had been rejected. He reapplied in January, and will have his case heard again in May.
         Mr. Flaven doesn't sound too upset. "It's a long process," he told John L. on March 20. "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."
         Mr. Flaven has good reason to modulate his comments. Should he gain his license, then the Taxicab Authority would of course stand as a bulwark, defending him from unwanted upstart competitors, guaranteeing him a share of the healthy profits of a market chronically under-served.
         Central government planning based on "scientific evaluation of the public's economic needs" is collapsing around the world, sometimes in flames but more often rust and rubble, in whimpers of disgust and embarrassment. America won the Cold War by standing as a champion of the free market, with all the prosperity and opportunity it brings.
         Isn't anyone else embarrassed by what is arguably America's freest state -- Nevada -- insisting on the perpetuation of the Central Government Commissariat of Taxicab Planning?
         The solution is not to sell Mr. Flaven his license, and then slam the door for another 25 years. The solution is for the 1997 Nevada Legislature to disband and de-fund the Nevada Taxicab Authority, instructing it that -- as its final duty -- it is to send a letter to Mr. Flaven, informing him: "Go ahead; good luck; you don't need no stinking license."


Vin Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The web site for the Suprynowicz column is at http://www.nguworld.com/vindex/. The column is syndicated in the United States and Canada via Mountain Media Syndications, P.O. Box 4422, Las Vegas Nev. 89127.



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