St. Louis Wastes No Time Going After Ride-Sharing Services


Check your privilege! Because government regulation and licensing schemes are known to help the poor, right?
Credit: Raido Kaldma / photo on flickr

St. Louis may not be the first city in America to go after ride-sharing services, but it may have been the fastest. Within 90 minutes of Lyft launching in the city on Friday, police pulled over and cited a driver in front of City Hall.

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

The San Francisco-based company ignored a cease and desist order from the city's taxi commission when its smartphone app went live at 7 p.m. Friday. If you pulled up the Lyft app, dozens of little car icons dotted a map of the city.

City Alderman Scott Ogilvie, whose ward is on the west edge of the city, Tweeted that a Lyft driver had been cited 90 minutes after the service launched.

"When St. Louis chooses to punish @Lyft drivers, it doesn't hurt the company," Ogilvie said on Twitter. "It hurts the employees, who are St. Louis residents."

Richard Callow, a spokesman for the St. Louis Metropolitan Taxicab Commission, confirmed the citation. He said that enforcement officers were also handing Lyft drivers lists of registered cab companies that are hiring.

A spokeswoman for Lyft told the Riverfront Times the company would pay for all court and attorney fees on behalf of their drivers. The Times noted the police and the St. Louis Metrocab Taxicab Commission (MTC) worked together to patrol the "hipper" St. Louis communities looking for the recognizable furry pink mustaches on any cars. The commission's director, Bob Oldani, said he's worried about physical confrontations:

Oldani says he's concerned about violence breaking out between Lyft drivers and full-time taxi drivers who think Lyft is encroaching on their turf. The MTC already heard a report of cabbies threatening a car with a pink mustache in front of a downtown hotel, but investigators couldn't find any evidence.

Oldani took his anti-ride-sharing argument even further, essentially accusing Lyft workers of being privileged:

Full-time taxi drivers are a diverse group, but many, Oldani says, are recent immigrants who turn to driving full-time when their educational or professional qualifications don't translate to the U.S. workplace.

"These guys are trying to support families," he says.

But Lyft drivers are a totally different crowd, famous for driving part-time for beer money or to help pay off student loans. When Oldanii briefed police on Friday's assignment, he described Lyft drivers as college-educated people who work during the day and drive mom and dad's car on the side.

I am not sure why the word "but" starts that paragraph. Paying off student loans is not some sort of voluntary act of middle/upper-class charity, and if the drivers are college-educated yet need to use mom and dad's car, doesn't that indicate financial instability? There's something particularly loathsome about trying to yell "privilege" at innovation that has developed because cronyism between the government and taxi companies has driven up transportation prices for everybody. Who does Oldani think the lower prices of Lyft services benefits? Or does it only matter that cab drivers are supporting families?

As you can see above, at least one city alderman is on Lyft's side. Ogilvie argued in favor of ride-share innovation on Twitter over the weekend here.

Brian Doherty wrote extensively about the struggles of ride-sharing services to deal with attacks from government regulators and taxi companies protecting their monopolies here.

UPDATE: This afternoon, a St. Louis judge granted a temporary restraining order against Lyft and its drivers and ordered Lyft to disable its app in the city. More here.

(Hat tip to Mark Sletten.)

(Edited to fix the spelling of Oldani's name.)