Go ahead, flag down a ride, but prepare for sticker shock
It costs $16.50 for a cab ride from the “Y” to Caesars Tahoe. Ask anybody and they’ll say that’s too much for a ride at South Shore – at least anybody who isn’t in the taxi cab business.
“Believe me, we’d run a cheaper rate if we could,” said Tom Alvord, a dispatcher at Yellow Cab, a service that dominates the private transportation market at South Shore.
It’s the $2 million of liability insurance required for the car coupled with all the maintenance needed to keep a cab on the road 24 hours a day, that keeps cab fare pricey.
For a ride that originates in Nevada, the “drop fee” is $2 to get into a cab and $2.64 a mile. If you start your journey in California and get dropped off in Nevada the “drop-fee” remains $2, but the per-mile rate is slightly cheaper at $2.50 a mile.
Alvord says cab fare at South Shore is cheap compared to cities like Sacramento and San Francisco, where the mile-rate is pushing three dollars. But should we be compared to those cities? Wouldn’t a place like Mammoth be a better comparison?
Its lone cab business offers a flat rate for locals: $5 for any one-way trip that doesn’t exceed the 5-square-mile town. But South Shore has BlueGo, a public transportation system, which is cheaper and has created added pressure in an industry that is cost-heavy and shrinking.
It costs $110 to $120 a week to insure each car Yellow Cab has on the road, according to Alvord. Only when at least 15 cars are out on the road does the company begin to turn a profit.
These days, there’s fewer passengers. Tahoe casinos, and consequently the cab business, lost customers when the Thunder Valley Casino opened last year near Roseville. The casino sits between Tahoe and Sacramento and lures customers with billboards that scream “No Chains Required.”
And fewer passengers means it’s harder for a cabbie to make a living. Cab businesses typically lease cars to drivers. At Yellow Cab, it costs $375 a week for a driver to have access to a car 12 hours a day, seven days a week.
Yellow Cab changes tires and does mechanical work, but the drivers pay for the gas they use, which is a big chunk considering how gas prices have climbed in the last three years.
“It’s tough, it’s really getting to be tough,” said Sylvan Sullwold, who started driving cabs about a year ago.
Lake Tahoe Taxi – Yellow Cab’s nearest competitor – also leases its cars to drivers, but its vehicles are all-wheel-drive vans.
“It’s an expensive business,” said Greg Miller, owner of the business. “It’s a lot of little things, like car maintenance and dealing with BlueGo. And the high cost of gasoline.”
Before Alvord began working at Yellow Cab, he ran his own cab business – Tahoe Keys Taxi – for five years. High operation costs and the 24-hour nature of the business made him decide the endeavor wasn’t worth all the time and energy he devoted to it.
“Small operations come and go and come and go here in the city of South Lake Tahoe,” Alvord said. “Even when things were going good it was a headache. The cost of operation is extremely high if you’re small. The basic reason is insurance.”
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