The Mardi Gras celebrations that took place last week in Soulard were met with extremely cold weather, with temperatures dropping into the teens after nightfall. I was driving through the area later that night, directly behind an empty cab. As we neared an intersection, a woman came forward to hail the cab. It drove right by and left her in the cold.
Maybe that cab driver had someplace to go or was simply done driving that day. I do not know. But what I do know is that woman could have used a convenient, inexpensive ride home. The same is true of the 60 drivers who were cited with DWIs before 8 p.m. Unfortunately, the supply of taxis in Saint Louis is strictly controlled by a regulatory body that thinks it knows how many cabs Saint Louis should have and how those cabs should serve customers.
That body is known as the St. Louis Metropolitan Taxicab Commission (MTC), and they have decided that new ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft should not be able to provide needed transportation to Saint Louisans on nights like February 14. Instead, they tightly control the supply and business practices of for-hire vehicles, as we have detailed in previous blog posts. That includes UberBlack (Uber’s expensive black car service), which can only partner with a limited supply of MTC-licensed premium sedans.
But change may be in the air for Missouri cities, including Saint Louis. Other cities, like Kansas City and Columbia, have or are in the process of changing their taxi codes to allow ridesharing. However, Columbia’s changes ask for insurance that is reportedly 20 times the dollar amount they require for cabs, perhaps to make Uber too expensive to operate.
At the state level, two bills in the Missouri Legislature, SB 351 and HR 792, would set a statewide standard for the regulation of Uber, Lyft, and other ridesharing companies (officially transportation network companies) given certain license payments and insurance coverage. If these state standards pass, it would be a dagger to the heart of the MTC, as it would preclude that body from regulating ridesharing companies in any way. The MTC’s significant barriers to entry and management of ridesharing company driver supply would be eliminated. That would open the door for cheaper, more plentiful transportation in Saint Louis.
In the many states where ridesharing companies are allowed to operate, thousands, and sometimes tens of thousands, of for-hire vehicle drivers have entered the market. Even during peak hours, they pick up passengers quickly and offer the ease of app-based payment, all for prices competitive with regular cabs.
Just think, next time it might be you on the street corner in the freezing cold after a big event. Would you want to rely on a few passing cabs to decide whether your fare was worth the trouble? Or would you rather rely on a competitive market that includes cheap, responsive ridesharing services at the touch of a button? Not a hard choice, unless of course you’re a taxi regulator.