Reno’s cabs to become more wholesome

With the proximity of Lake Tahoe, Burning Man and the downtown casinos, Northern Nevada has a thriving tourism industry that is helped along with the services of its local taxi companies. Anyone paying the slightest attention to these vehicles, however, will notice a peculiarity when comparing them to other cities’ taxis, except perhaps Las Vegas: Most of the taxis advertise the area’s local brothels and strip clubs. I’ve heard mixed reviews about the impact of these ads. Many of my college-aged friends don’t care, but friends with young families feel uncomfortable about the presence of these advertisements. Others feel that the ads negatively affect outsiders’ views on Reno as a whole.

On Aug. 25, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported on an upcoming campaign by the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada (EDAWN) to change the narrative of Reno taxi advertising. While there are already major restrictions about what can be advertised by businesses of a sexual nature—for example, brothels aren’t allowed to advertise what specific services they offer nor are they allowed to list price—they have managed to take a sizable chunk of the city’s cab advertising and make it their own. EDAWN’s plan is to push the businesses that promote vice off the cabs by purchasing the ads for businesses that are viewed in more wholesome ways.

Reno has struggled to break away from its national reputation for seediness. From Reno 911 to its image as a lesser Las Vegas, Reno has long gotten a bad rap. During a recent conversation I had with a stranger in the Bay Area, I discovered that he didn’t even know there was a university in Reno, let alone one with top tier research and the alma mater of Super Bowl 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. It’s true, Reno’s image could probably do with a full-blown makeover.

The issue with the taxi ads, however, is that while it’s good if the change can improve Reno’s image—maybe even indirectly bringing in a larger variety of clientele—the “seedy” businesses ought not be discriminated against. If the advertising did not work, it would not exist. If Reno’s market is truly changing, then new ads will be successful. The free market and consumer choices determine how well ads do for their purchasers, so if the Reno community decides to respond to and create different kinds of ads, then the new campaign should work.

But local businesses have to analyze and understand the changing tastes of consumers, including tourists. If there is public demand for and response to advertising for small, local businesses, then by all means let the campaign move forward. According to the RGJ, EDAWN is funding the campaign through tax-deductible contributions.

The only foreseeable problem would be the restriction of advertising for businesses whose values might not align with those of the ad campaign. Infringing on the rights of other business owners who want to entice customers would be an intolerable abuse of the system. As long as their advertising sticks to the parameters of state law, there is no reason why brothels, strip clubs and other businesses that cater to sexual appetites shouldn’t be able to share the advertising space alongside other businesses.

It may even happen that those businesses might eventually phase out their taxi ads in favor of other media. But either way, there should be equal opportunity to generate and conduct business in the area. It’s admirable that the small businesses of Reno are banding together to work on a common mission, but it’s important to not lose sight of the rights of all business owners.