Travel Usury : Putting the tax in taxi


Taxation without representation

Since tourists don’t vote in places they don’t live, it’s customary for local governments to gouge visitors with excessive and arbitrary travel taxes and fees tacked on to hotel rooms, airport, railroad and interstate bus transactions, car rentals, etc., at venues like airports, lodgings,
and so on, where local voters are less apt to go. A particularly egregious example: taxi ride fares in Las Vegas, a sprawling western city where most locals drive their own cars and parking fees are minimal to non-existent to attract gamblers.

You’ll want to think twice before taking a Vegas cab. Turning on the meter costs $3.50 — before you’ve traveled an inch. At the end of the ride, a tip is added with no obvious way to remove or change it. If you choose to use Visa/MasterCard or Amex, there’s a $3 fee to swipe the card. A short trip — from the Venetian to Caesar’s, say, about a half mile — can set you back $15.

Is that $3 swipe fee even legal? (In California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Oklahoma and Texas, at least, it would be against the law; what’s up, Nevada?) Doesn’t charging the fee amount to offering a cash discount? Visa rules don’t allow retailers to charge cardholders a checkout fee for using their cards; probably neither do the agreements of other credit card issuers. Even if, in tight times, a business felt it needed to make up the sums paid to the credit card card companies, these amount to about 3% of the cost of a transaction not, as in the case at hand, a usurious 20%!

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