Recently, Uber announced plans to offer free rides for all Saint Louisans for the Fourth of July weekend. The free rides would have promoted UberX, which Uber is currently attempting to launch in Saint Louis. Free rides on a day when drunk driving rates are at their highest and when it can be hard to find a cab seems like it should be a big win for the city. Who could be against that?
The Metropolitan Taxicab Commission (MTC), that’s who.
The MTC regulates all for-hire vehicle services in the city of Saint Louis, including ridesharing. Problematically, half of its members represent the existing taxi industry, with vested interests in keeping out new competitors and new business models. As we’ve written before, their onerous and outdated taxi regulations are the reason Saint Louis has fallen behind the rest of the nation in getting ridesharing companies to set up in the city. In response to Uber’s petition to allow free rides in Saint Louis on the Fourth, the MTC said they would only allow it if all Uber drivers had gone through the MTC’s background checks (including finger printing) and drug tests. That stipulation effectively scuttles the promotion.
There is some question as to whether the MTC has any legal authority to ban free Uber rides, as the company is not technically offering a paid service. But the commission believes it does have the authority, and it has decided to use it to the detriment of Saint Louis. Moreover, the commission’s decision is in direct opposition to the position of Mayor Slay, who tweeted out on the promotion:
Uber has offered a free trial of its X service for the long holiday weekend. It is a positive gesture that we welcome.
With the MTC now swimming against both the tide of public opinion and the Mayor’s Office (which has hinted that they would not pressure police to enforce the MTC’s decision), it may be time to ask whom exactly this regulatory commission works for, Saint Louis residents or itself?