Saint Louis, Mo. — With just one week left until the Metropolitan Taxicab Commission could decide on new regulations opening up the region to Uber, the ride-hailing company is promising 2,000 new jobs and pushing back against requirements to conduct fingerprint-based background checks on drivers.
Yesterday, the San Francisco-based company presented its plan to hire 2,000 drivers within the first year at a news conference and recruiting event alongside the St. Louis City NAACP, the St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment (SLATE), and Ferguson 1000, a group founded by former Republican gubernatorial candidate Dave Spence that focuses on minority job opportunities in impoverished neighborhoods.
The event came as Uber looks to push the narrative that their entrance into the St. Louis market could bring jobs and rides-for-hire to neighborhoods long-underserved by traditional taxi companies. Uber — saying that their drivers could average between $15 and $20 per hour in St. Louis, keeping roughly 80 percent of their fares — says that such part-time job opportunities for minorities will help monetize their vehicles and reduce crime.
MTC officials say that they have worked out most issues with Uber and have privately hinted that they will approve of regulations for Uber at their July 29 meeting, but that approval would come even as the two parties continue to debate fingerprint-based background checks.
The tentative agreement on the table would offer Uber drivers a “preliminary” licenses to begin driving in the city, while MTC officials say that Uber will need to go to state lawmakers in Jefferson City to change the state statute that explicitly requires the MTC to take fingerprints.
Uber, for their part, say the statute may not apply to ride-sharing companies like theirs, but only traditional taxicab operations. An Uber spokesperson said that the company supported a change in statute that would give companies the option of how to conduct their own background checks, rather than requiring Missouri Highway Patrol and FBI fingerprint checks. The spokesperson did not clarify whether or not Uber would actively lobby the general assembly next year for such a change.
Uber maintains that their own checks are thorough and that fingerprints can easily be smudged. The St. Louis NAACP, in a statement, said that fingerprint-based checks exacerbated an existing disparity for minorities in the judicial system.
“The U.S. Department of Justice’s report with respect to Ferguson, Mo., clearly documented that many more young men of color are disproportionately arrested, fingerprinted and mis-adjudicated than white men,” the group said in a statement. “And once their fingerprints are in the system, it is difficult to remove them if the charges are dropped.”
The event attracted roughly 100 individuals who filled out the paperwork and spoke with Uber officials about becoming an Uber driver. The ride-hailing company appears to be within striking distance of operating in the St. Louis market, but approval by the MTC next week won’t end the fingerprint debate. That fight is still being waged, even if the venue moves to the state capitol.
Collin Reischman was the Managing Editor for The Missouri Times, and a graduate of Webster University with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.