Taxi Commission Delays Decision On Key Issue Keeping Uber from St. Louis (UPDATE)
The Metropolitan Taxicab Commission voted today to change its ride-for-hire and allow room for Uber to launch in St. Louis, the largest U.S. market the app-based car service.
But the MTC delayed deciding on the biggest obstacle barring Uber from St. Louis: charging a $25 minimum fare.
Uber, which hasn't officially applied for a taxi license, has said its business model can't function under some of the rules and proposed rules the taxi authority wants to enforce, including a proposed $25 minimum fare. Before Tuesday's meeting even started, Uber sent emails to supporters warning them that forcing a $25 minimum fee is a non-starter.
"St. Louis is the largest city in the U.S. that does not provide residents and visitors access to transportation options such as Uber," the email says. "Imposing fare minimums and other protectionist regulations driven by the taxi industry are the reason why."
UPDATE: Uber released this statement about Tuesday's hearing:
The changes passed today by the Metropolitan Taxi Commission are a step in the right direction. However, we have concerns with a few items that would potentially impact Uber's ability to operate in St. Louis. We are seeking clarification on the $2,500 license fee, the cap on premium sedan permits, and the details of the CTPCN third-party dispatch license. We look forward to working with the city to ensure they are not barriers for growth, and hope that Uber can soon provide St. Louis residents access to affordable, reliable, and expanded transportation options.
While the commission won't take up the minimum-fee question until later this month, it did agree to several other changes, including: Cars can now be up to six, not five years old. Cars older than a year get twice annual, not once annual, inspections. Premium sedans can sit 200 feet, not 2,500 feet, from a hotel or business to wait for fares. Premium sedans no longer need to display the name of the passenger in the window or on a hand-held sign as long as they have a digital receipt.
The rule changes may seem minor, but they represent months of careful negotiations between the MTC and Uber. Even St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay got involved, encouraging the taxi authority in May to adopt new rules that will help Uber launch here. He had his say on Twitter before the meeting:
The MTC will consider a series of changes that make it possible for Uber to enter the STL market. I hope the new rules are approved. #fgs— MayorSlay.com (@MayorSlay) July 20, 2014
The taxi drivers and St. Louis residents who filled the MTC meeting room seemed less excited about the changes:
Commissioners told me they saw proposed changes as compromise. Plenty in crowd don't seem to agree— Collin Reischman (@Collin_MOTimes) July 22, 2014
Jamie Belding (sp?) - I don't like @uber, and I really don't like a company trying to backdoor like this.— Rachel Lippmann (@rlippmann) July 22, 2014
"What is Uber?" one cab driver asks. "Is it an app? Is it deregulation? Is it a limo service?"— Michael Calhoun (@michaelcalhoun) July 22, 2014
"They are barging in with total disrespect for the institutions we built," he says of rideshares. Decries calling them "revolutionary."— Michael Calhoun (@michaelcalhoun) July 22, 2014
The changes don't mean that Uber will open a ride-sharing service similar to what Lyft tried to launch earlier this year. Rather, Uber is applying for a license for its UberBLACK service, which dispatches premium sedans at the touch of a smartphone.
Uber's app-based ridesharing service, called UberX, is still barred from operating in St. Louis, though that isn't stopping Uber from recruiting drivers.
Lyft and UberX both match non-professional drivers in their own vehicles with customers looking for rides.
Lyft is still under a preliminary injunction in St. Louis, and its trial date has been pushed back to August 2015.