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CEShowdown: Las Vegas Taxi Drivers and Cab Companies Are Still Super Pissed at Uber and Lyft

The quiet car-hailing tension surrounding CES.

George Rose / Getty

A little after 7 am on Tuesday, the day before things got into full swing at CES 2016 in Las Vegas, cab driver Jeanette learned that her latest passenger had driven in from San Francisco.

“Are you from there?” she asked.


Without missing a beat: “You can take Uber and Lyft back with you.”

This is the situation in Las Vegas where, up until a few months ago, you couldn’t hail Uber or Lyft rides in the city. Taxi and limo services were able to keep the fast-growing companies out for a while, but they have been losing territory after a protracted political battle that involved raids in bulletproof vests and the cab companies’ sketchy political ties to the Nevada Transportation Authority. This past spring, the Nevada state legislature legalized Uber and Lyft, but many taxi drivers and operators remain skeptical.

After her snappy reply, Jeanette produced a pamphlet: “Trip Sheet: ‘Your Vegas Transportation Guide Since 1984.'” She opened to page six where it said, plain as day, that the ride-sharing services had robbed Las Vegas taxi drivers of 115,000 rides.

She has driven her livery cab for three years, and admits that her reticence comes, in part, from a lack of tech savvy. Insurance is also a concern. “If we got in a crash right now that put us in the emergency room,” she said, gesturing from the driver’s seat, “we’d be covered to the hilt.”

There’s also the fact that the apps eradicate a certain Las Vegas magic. She recounted two stories of drunk passengers who had, out of kindness, given her generous tips. The apps barely tip, if ever.

Ernesto, who works as a valet driver, started driving for Uber and Lyft two months ago. On his first day, taxi drivers met him with animosity. “They saw my sticker and yelled, ‘Go to hell! Go die! I hope you crash!'” he recalled.

The taxi industry’s war with ride-hailing services like Uber, although mostly invisible to consumers, is among the most compelling narratives of this year’s CES — an annual Vegas tech industry confab that draws thousands. All eyes are on the carmakers this year, which are announcing deals and products aimed at fending off Apple, Google and, of course, Uber. General Motors helped set off the bonanza on Monday when it announced a $500 million investment in and partnership with Lyft.

 Lyft and Uber flyers across from the Las Vegas Convention Center
Lyft and Uber flyers across from the Las Vegas Convention Center
Noah Kulwin / Re/code

So far, the cab-Uber hostility has been at a low simmer during CES. Kimberly Rushton, executive director of the Livery Operators Association of Southern Nevada, told Bloomberg Business on Monday that new Uber and Lyft drivers will only snarl the traffic around the city because of driver inexperience.

“You’ve got new drivers in the market who don’t have drivers’ meetings,” she said. “They’re just out there to pick up riders. They don’t have that same expertise.”

A spokesperson for the Livery Operators Association of Southern Nevada declined to comment for this story.

Luis, a Las Vegas driver for both Uber and Lyft (a practice that Luis says is common in Las Vegas), drove a cab for a few years before signing up with the ride-hailing services when they came to the city a few months ago. He says he makes more money now than he ever did driving a cab, and that he can spend more time with his wife and two young kids. He argues, pretty persuasively, that the taxi and limo companies are fighting a losing battle.

“When I used to go to the airport to pick up customers, all of the people that come here used to ask if we had Uber or Lyft,” he said, spreading out his hands and shrugging. “And it’s all about the customers, you know, that’s who matters. They’re the ones who ask for Uber and Lyft.”

Uber and Lyft driver Yordan, a Bulgarian native who came to Las Vegas four years back, agrees with Luis’s analysis. He drives a late-model Lincoln sedan and works 10 hours a day, six days a week. He used to be a limo driver, which he says was an awful job.

“A limo driver sounds like a nice job, but it’s really just minimum wage plus tip,” he explained. “I have a wife and two kids, how can I support them on $7.25 an hour?”

Both Luis and Yordan are familiar with the rules of being good drivers in Las Vegas: They have Nevada business licenses handy to stay in compliance (Luis’s is laminated), and they know the city pretty well. Neither of them thinks that CES, arguably the biggest Vegas event since Uber and Lyft arrived, will stretch either platform or its newer drivers too much. Luis says that he doesn’t believe “they’ll have any problems.”

Yordan mostly agrees, but with a big qualification.

“You should know everything in Las Vegas before you start doing this,” he said. “Otherwise you’re not going to make it.”

This article originally appeared on

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