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Uber says taxi commission is blocking free rides in St. Louis this weekend

Discussion in 'Saint Louis' started by Dreamer, Jul 3, 2015.

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  1. Dreamer

    Dreamer
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    One day before Uber was slated to begin giving free rides through the holiday weekend, it withdrew the offer. The ride-hailing service said it reversed course after the St. Louis Metropolitan Taxicab Commission ordered its drivers to get temporary permits.

    The move came as a surprise to many, because the Uber drivers would not have charged passengers.

    Mayor Francis Slay had signaled his support for the free rides, calling them a “positive gesture that we welcome” on Twitter. He had hoped the rides would be a way to let the market decide if the service was wanted here, said his spokeswoman, Maggie Crane.

    Uber and the taxi commission have been at odds over the requirements that drivers would have to undergo as the commission considers changes to its code to allow ride-hailing services to operate in St. Louis and St. Louis County.

    Many on the taxi commission want the drivers to be drug-tested and also submit to a Missouri Highway Patrol background check, which involves FBI fingerprint checks — both are requirements for licensed cabdrivers. Uber has called the requirements burdensome and says the background checks it conducts are thorough.

    St. Louis is the largest city in the country to not allow UberX, an app-based ride-hailing service in which drivers use their own cars to ferry passengers. It is allowed in Illinois, and most of St. Charles County has signaled support.

    Neil Bruntrager, the attorney who represents the taxi commission, said Wednesday that Uber’s offer of free rides was probably a ploy to create public pressure for the taxi commission to back off of its demands.

    He was also skeptical of Uber’s claims that no money would be exchanged, citing a line from the letter Uber wrote the commission on Monday about its plans for the weekend, in which it called its transactions cashless.

    “Why would there be any ‘transaction’ if it’s a free ride?” Bruntrager said. “Don’t tell me it’s going to be a free ride and then tell me there’s going to be a transaction.”

    He also thinks riders would be expected to tip the drivers.

    Uber denied that claim, saying it wanted to provide rides to curb drunken driving. It had volunteered to donate $1 from each trip to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

    “During months of discussions, it’s been made crystal clear that onerous requirements such as fingerprinting and drug testing would render it impossible for Uber to enter St. Louis, temporarily or permanently,” Uber said in a statement Wednesday. “Mandating these requirements, which do nothing to improve safety, is merely a charade intended to deny the people of St. Louis transportation options at a time they need it the most.”

    Bruntrager cited state law in finding that Uber’s free-ride offer fell under the commission’s jurisdiction, saying the law gives the taxi commission authority over vehicles carrying passengers, even if the vehicles are “not for hire or compensation.”

    In a letter sent to Uber on Wednesday, Bruntrager said the company would have to provide to the commission a list of drivers and copies of their licenses, insurance cards and Uber-conducted background checks before its drivers could get temporary permits.

    Each driver would also have to register with the taxi commission and be fingerprinted and undergo local background checks, as well as drug-testing through a cheek swab.

    The decision was made by polling members of the commission to get a consensus because of the limited window to respond to Uber’s request, made Monday, to give free rides.

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  2. MileHighDriver

    MileHighDriver
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    Not familiar with the promo in STL but back when UberX was getting started here, they did a "free ride promotion," with max of 3 rides per customer and max (I think) of $35.00. I didn't drive during that promo week but my understanding is that drivers still got paid for the trip. No surge rates, however; a friend who did drive during the promo said it was "nonstop." Ahh... those were the days, lol
    MHD
     
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