Uber

Welcome To The 21st Century, St. Louis Taxi Companies

"People want to be able to press on their smartphone and request a ride," says commission chairman, stating the obvious.

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Screenshot by Eric Boehm

After trying to drive ride-sharing companies out of the city with the threat of fines and lawsuits, the St. Louis Metropolitan Taxicab Commission on Tuesday decided to embrace competition and announced plans for a smartphone app that will compete with the likes of Uber and Lyft.

"People want to be able to press on their smartphone and request a ride," Ron Klein, director of the commission and stater-of-the-obvious, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

They're a few years late to the game, but cheers to the commission for discovering that competition drives innovation. The new app won't be ready until next year, but the Post-Dispatch says it will link all the cab companies operating in the city (some of which have already developed their own apps), letting users see all cabs and choose the one closest to them regardless of what company owns it.

The new St. Louis app will join similar programs launched by taxi companies in Chicago, Houston, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere.

Even as the cab companies in St. Louis are innovating to compete with the likes of Uber, they're still relying on a decades-long relationship with government to strong-arm competition out of the market. The Metropolitan Taxi Commission has spent the summer issuing tickets to Uber drivers because ride-sharing is still technically illegal in St. Louis because of state law (lawmakers in Jefferson City tried but failed to pass an Uber bill this year).

Under the current law, Uber drivers would have to be licensed as chauffeurs, which requires passing a background check and being fingerprinted (along with paying annual licensing fees).

Weirdly, the Commission refuses to explain how it is catching Uber drivers in the act. When asked by St. Louis Public Radio in June, Klein refused to answer, claiming that the commission "would rather not discuss the particulars of our enforcement actions. It's kind of something that we don't want to put out there."

Nonetheless, Uber has been operating in St. Louis since September 2015, a fact that makes the president of St. Louis County Cab "very angry." Cab companies have brought a $5 million class action lawsuit against Uber, arguing that the ride-sharing service is hurting cabbies' ability to make a living.

The Taxi Commission likely will continue to bully people from using their private cars to give rides to other people as a way to prevent competition with taxi cabs, but its development of a new taxi hailing app for phones is an admission that ride-sharing isn't going to be driven away by force.

H/t to Mark Sletten.

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27 responses to “Welcome To The 21st Century, St. Louis Taxi Companies

  1. I was thinking about something this morning. Uber really shouldn’t be called a ride-sharing service. Ride-sharing would just be hitching a ride with someone who happens to be going somewhere near where you’re going. Uber is really just a taxi alternative.

    1. It was originally a ride-sharing service, so the name got stuck.

      What they really are are gypsy cabs, but PC Principal would want to have a word with you, bro.

      1. I thought gypsies were just a kind of mythical thing people talked about.

        Then I went to Prague for a summer. On my first morning there I went walking around and stopped to get some coffee. A bunch of cops showed up because people had apparently been dropping water balloons on people as they walked by on the street. I don’t speak the language. But I did manage to catch them saying something that sounded a lot like a curse word, followed by “gypsies.”

        Strangely enough, I had no more run ins with gypsies for the remainder of the summer.

        1. I think the still-current PC word is “Romani.” But gypsy hatred is real. They were a handy reason to blame everything on when there weren’t any Jews around and before Muslims came into vogue.

          1. Muslims are a perennial target of blame. It doesn’t help that they’ve literally invaded Europe at least half a dozen times.

          2. Also doesn’t help that every tourist destination I’ve visited that had Gypsies, they were as annoying as hell. Aggressive panhandling and hounding you to buy their crap.

      2. I think it’s cute how everyone involved thought it would be more palatable if they placed all these types of services under the ‘sharing economy’ rubric because capitalism wasn’t hip in the new economy.

        The founders of Uber discovered just how un-hip capitalism is. No matter what you call it.

    2. Just marketing. It puts their targets in the mindset of actual car-sharing or those ridiculous bikes.

      1. It’s better than putting their customers in the mind of cabs and cabbies…

  2. “People want to be able to press on their smartphone and request a ride,”

    NOT

    OKAY.

    1. Hundreds of employers are, right at this minute, getting bids on automated kiosks.

      1. Most of the short schedules and odd hours in those sectors are the results of workers simply failing to show up for their shifts. Adding more reasons to not hire people who are not known quantities is so brilliant! *checks on portfolio of automation services stocks*

        1. Yes, exactly this. 100% this. During an NPR interview with a local small businessman who gets classified as a corporate conglomerate, because he’s a “franchise owner” said exactly… this.

          He said that near to about 100% of the scheduling issues he’s had are based on people not showing up or simply quitting without giving notice, forcing him to zig and zag to keep his doors open. He talked about how tough it was to adjust for the minimum wage, and all the hours he had to cut, then talked about how much this is going to cost him because employees will still do the shit they always did, but now he pays a penalty when he has to keep his doors open.

          The interviewer kept pressing him about workers rights and poor working families like his concerns weren’t even valid. I was literally screaming at my radio.

          Then add into the fact that this law was entirely written by a labor union, they exempted themselves in the law and hand-delivered the legislation in a manila envelope to the city council, and no one calls it corruption. The local media won’t even talk about it. They’ve become parrots for the corrupt union officials. It’s sickening.

      2. Who knew Big Kiosk wielded so much power behind the curtains? Did they donate to the Clinton Foundation?

  3. Cab companies have brought a $5 million class action lawsuit against Uber, arguing that the ride-sharing service is hurting cabbies’ ability to make a living.

    All your riding are belong to us.

    1. Well selling America communism outright didn’t really work, but this time its okay baby, just the tip.

  4. Cab companies have brought a $5 million class action lawsuit against Uber, arguing that the ride-sharing service is hurting cabbies’ ability to make a living.

    Noes!1!!1 Muh rent-seeking!!!1!1

  5. “St. Louis taxi company” sounds like the name of a particularly unhygienic sexual act.

    1. It definitely requires a tarp.

  6. “People want to be able to press on their smartphone and request a ride,” Ron Klein, director of the commission and stater-of-the-obvious, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.”

    Just in case the commissioner is confused, after they press on their smartphone and request a ride, they also want someone to show up and give them a ride.

    I’ve traveled all over this great country of ours, and I’ve never found a taxi coop that wasn’t good at taking requests. Sending someone to actually show up, however, that’s a whole ‘nother game.

  7. Weirdly, the Commission refuses to explain how it is catching Uber drivers in the act.

    Cops posing as customers. Not that difficult.

    1. Actually they’ve been using it in preference to cabs, and dropping the hammer on drivers they disliked.

      /speculation and hearsay.

  8. I miss Uber and Lyft. Goddamn Bernie and his commies who demanded that we be fair to cab companies.

  9. Hey. That’s MISTER stater-of-the-obvious to you, punk.

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