After living in Saint Louis for several years, I’ve learned from experience that cabs are unreliable and too expensive for many individuals on a tight budget. As a college student who has used Uber many times in other cities, I know that Uber and Lyft bring more competition into the market and lower prices for consumers while still providing them with a safe and efficient service—elements that are nonexistent in the Saint Louis taxicab market.
This past week, when the St. Louis Metropolitan Taxicab Commission (MTC) unanimously approved Uber’s application to function as a third-party dispatcher for existing premium sedans, I was initially excited, figuring that cab services would be cheaper and easier to use. My excitement, however, was misguided, as the commission’s recent decision still puts the brakes on any meaningful competition that Uber and Lyft would provide.
The MTC, “in its continuing endeavor to provide safe, high quality taxi service to St. Louis,” has retained and added regulations that will prevent Uber or any other ridesharing company from offering anything but an expensive, premium service. Some examples of these regulations include:
- The price of a premium sedan must be greater than $33,000.
- The price of a premium SUV must be greater than $42,000.
- The vehicle cannot be more than six model years old while in service.
- For-hire services must have a non-residential business address.
It gets worse. Aside from controlling the downstream pricing of ridesharing services, the MTC still plans to tightly control the supply of premium sedans available to Uber through the issuance of permits. Initially, the MTC will only issue 26 permits for premium services, and only five will be rewarded to new, single-vehicle operators. The rest will go to existing sedan companies that can afford three or more sedans. These smoke and mirror tricks, designed to make it appear that the MTC is becoming friendlier to other services and companies, are in reality reinforcing the restrictions on the entry and pricing of the taxi market.
These arbitrary restrictions become even more evident when trying to order an Uber. When I attempted to order a car through the Uber app, the message appears that “no Black cars are available.” So even after the changes, trying to use Uber is just as difficult as when they were barred from entering the market. Clearly, the MTC’s decision is not doing anything to fulfill their duty of providing enough supply to meet the demand.