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MTC, Uber creeping closer to compromise

Saint Louis, Mo. — It has been more than a year since ride-sharing companies like Uber have looked to expand into the St. Louis region, but the billion-dollar tech startup will have to wait at least another month before getting the OK from officials to get up-and-running.

The Metropolitan Taxicab Commission held a public hearing today that unofficially had one purpose: to get Uber representatives and MTC officials a little closer on a deal that would allow the company to start driving in the greater St.Louis region.

The MTC oversees regulations for traditional taxicab companies in the City and county of St. Louis. The Commissions consists of a few members of the taxi industry itself, something Uber says stacks the deck against them. But MTC officials say they want Uber to operate in St. Louis, but say they have an obligation to public safety.

MTC and Uber remain firmly entrenched on three main issues that will need to be resolved ahead of the July 29 meeting — when the commission will next have a chance to meet and vote on any new regulatory framework.

Drug tests and criminal background checks, along with insurance coverage for drivers remain the primary areas of concern for both sides, which are each already calling on each other to compromise. Uber says its background checks, which are performed by a vendor called Checkr, are more thorough than the MTC’s standard check, which goes through the Missouri Highway Patrol. MTC officials have scoffed at the claim.

On drug testing, Uber contends that it’s constant-feedback system of drivers and passengers rating one another continuously is a better drug test than the “snapshot in time” of a random urine test.

Should Uber see the MTC approve of new regulations they can swallow, the company can immediately apply for a license and be up and running in a matter of days. If the two groups can’t get together, Uber hasn’t been clear about whether or not it will continue negotiating for the St. Louis market, which remains one of the largest metropolitan regions in the country without UberX services.

There’s a quiet optimism among some of the parties involved that say that Uber and MTC have been having productive private negotiations on new regulations. But that same optimism remains cautious as both sides continue to characterize the other as the primary impediment to a solution.

The negotiations are also likely to impact the MTC’s August court battle scheduled with Lyft, another ride-hailing app that contested MTC regulations and even began operating in St. Louis last year with no formal approval. If regulations approved by the MTC are also workable for Lyft, it’s likely to end the court fight before it begins.

The MTC is taking public comments for the next two weeks on ride-sharing companies before meeting with St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger and drafting it’s first proposed set of rules for companies like Lyft and Uber. The next MTC meeting is July 29.