Ridesharing has had a bumpy ride in the Saint Louis area. The Metropolitan Taxicab Commission (MTC) strictly regulates the number of cabs, the prices they can charge, and even minutiae like the color scheme of taxis. It is a regulatory system marked by parochial, top-down control. So when Lyft began operating in the metropolitan area without the permission of the MTC last year, the official response was hostile. Police ticketed Lyft drivers, and the company was forced to cease its Saint Louis operations.
The bright spot for residents hoping to use ridesharing was Uber’s entry into the Saint Louis market. By negotiating with regional power brokers, such as Mayor Slay and the MTC, Uber was able to secure regulatory changes that would allow it to operate its expensive black car service, which launched last October.
Unfortunately, the relaxation in regulation was only very slight, and the MTC still firmly regulates taxi operations in the Saint Louis area. For example, the MTC only allows Uber to act as a dispatch service for MTC-licensed premium sedans, the number of which the commission has limited (initially the MTC added only 26 new vehicles to accommodate Uber). The MTC also passed restrictions to ensure that Uber Black uses only premium sedans and charges premium prices, lest they compete with normal cabs.
Notwithstanding the subsequent undersupply of Uber vehicles, Uber claims significant demand and wishes to expand its black car service and begin operating UberX, the company’s true low-price ridesharing service. But unlike cities across the country (including Kansas City and Chicago) the MTC has not shown the inclination to make the large-scale regulatory changes that would open the way for innovative ridesharing companies or create a more robust taxi market.
In a city where officials ceaselessly talk about attracting businesses and innovators downtown, it is shocking that they are unwilling to reduce regulations in order to make the city an easier place to work and play. If Saint Louis is going to experience sustained revitalization, it is going to come from being a leader in fostering new businesses, like ridesharing companies, that residents choose to patronize. It will not come from splashy, taxpayer-funded development schemes that regional leaders repeatedly propose.