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Metropolitan Taxicab Commission approves compromise for new taxi services

Saint Louis, Mo. — The Metropolitan Taxicab Commission approved new regulations today that tentatively open the door for UberBlack — a premium car service run through the Uber app — to begin operating in the City of St. Louis.

Representatives from taxicab and transportation companies across the city came out against the new regulations, saying the MTC was going too far in accommodating UberBlack and that looser regulations accommodating them would make it harder for established companies to compete.

The new regulations deal specifically with premium car services or “black car” services, which are regulated in a slightly different way than taxicabs. New regulations remove the three car minimum fleet requirements and allows for the use of older cars for premium rides, while also calling for an increase in required maintenance.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay

The new regulations are designed to accommodate Uber’s operation in the city without driving out established car services, according to the commission. Uber’s premium car service, UberBlack, has not yet filed for the appropriate CCN permit needed to operate in the city.

Lou Hamilton, Chairman of the MTC, said that neither side got everything they wanted.

“Nobody is happy with each and every one of these changes,” Hamilton told the MTC before the meeting began. “Everybody is mad at one piece of this or the next, but we are charged with the responsibility of making sure the safety and convenience of the public is preserved.”

Existing taxi companies said the commission shouldn’t be bending over backward to embrace Uber before the company even applied to operate in the area. Hamilton said Uber had been involved in the discussions off-and-on and that the day’s decision reflected a fairly sweeping compromise. He also said the MTC had been mischaracterized by some.

“People have asked why there are only 4 industry folks on this commission and what are we up to,” Hamilton said. “That’s the way it was designed, as a function of state law, we have 4 industry professionals on the commission. And listening to both them and the professionals outside of here, that has been very valuable in working on a compromise like this.”

While Uber has yet to formally apply to operate a service in the area under the new guidelines, several of the changes open the door to smaller, app-based car services. Several of the changes made by the commission dealt with updating rules to accommodate drivers operating off digital devices and carrying non-paper receipts and manifests.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay took to Twitter shortly after the final decisions were made to compliment Hamilton and the commission.

“Neither Uber nor heritage cab companies/limos are happy with every change,” he tweeted. “That’s the nature of compromise.”

Per the MTC changes, 5 new CCN permits will be made available, by lottery, to qualified single-car fleets. Twenty-one new CCN permits will be made available, also by lottery, to 3-or-more-car fleets. Currently the MTC has placed a moratorium on issuing new CCN permits for taxicabs.

The next meeting of the MTC will be on August 21 where they will unveil newer, specific requirements to qualify as a “premium sedan,” and to decide on whether or not to mandate a minimum $25 per ride fee for premium car services.

Some has suggested state legislative intervention, but today’s compromise would seem to quiet those calls. “I’ve always felt safe relying on the current taxi services the MTC has regulated, and I’m happy the MTC and Commissioner Hamilton are working to embrace new technology-dependent companies while making them conform to the rules that have made people trust the current taxi structure,” said Rep. Robert Cornejo.

“I’m certainly not aware of any crisis the new services solve,” said Sen. Scott Sifton of St. Louis. “I have not been aware of any great concern in the area with the quality of taxi services, as far as I’m aware the commission has been doing a good job.”