The St. Louis Metropolitan Taxicab Commission (MTC) has long stifled competition in the name of customer safety. The MTC controls market entry, tells cab and sedan businesses how they can operate, and sets prices. When Lyft launched in Saint Louis, MTC officials claimed they needed to shut down the app to protect customer safety, despite Lyft’s extensive insurance policy, background checks, and vehicle inspections. Now, with Uber preparing to launch in Saint Louis, the MTC is at it again, proposing more regulations to shut out competition.
Yesterday, the MTC approved changes to the taxicab code that would ostensibly allow a company such as Uber (although not Lyft) to operate in Saint Louis. The MTC altered the section of the code concerning premium sedans, which previously were quite onerous, with the implication that Uber can now pursue a license as a premium sedan company. Previously, premium sedans were required to bear written placards with the names of their customers, premium sedan companies could not start a business with fewer than three sedans, and (critically) sedans had to contract services at least 60 minutes in advance of pickup. The MTC voted to remove or relax these restrictions.
While some restrictions are gone, other competition-stifling regulations remain. Sedan companies still must obtain a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity (CCN) for $2,500, essentially asking companies to prove that Saint Louis needs cab service. Furthermore, the MTC still requires that each individual vehicle be licensed as a vehicle for hire (in Uber’s or Lyft’s cases, a premium sedan) with all the controls the MTC places on the appearance and operation of such vehicles.
While Uber might be able to operate with the code changes, it would be severely limited by regulations that the MTC plans on adding. First, the MTC is still considering making sedans charge a minimum fare of $25 per trip, although the final decision on this takes place later this month. This essentially limits Uber to its premium, black car service. Second, all sedans now have to pay a permit renewal fee of $500 per year. That is more than double the current cost of renewal for sedans and almost five times the fees required for cabs. Uber has cried foul, correctly calling these practices anti-competitive.
The restrictions on sedans in the taxicab code never had much to do with safety, and it is good to see the MTC repeal some of these regulations. However, the additions for a minimum fee for sedan services and onerous renewal requirements have no safety merit whatsoever. Their only possible purpose is to prevent Uber or Lyft from operating an on-demand, cheap vehicle service that might compete with existing taxicabs. Once again, the MTC has shown its true mission is not customer safety or satisfaction, but rather control over the Saint Louis taxi industry.