By Leah Thorsen
St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The St. Louis Metropolitan Taxicab Commission has filed suit against Uber Technologies and is seeking a restraining order to bar the ride-hailing company from operating in the city and in St. Louis County.
The commission on Sept. 18 voted to allow ride-hailing services such as UberX, an app-based service in which drivers use their own cars to ferry passengers. But it mandated that drivers be fingerprinted as part of a criminal background check and possess a class E Missouri commercial driver’s license, also known as a chauffeur’s license.
The commission said those requirements are mandated by state law, but Uber described them as onerous burdens for its drivers, many of whom drive less than six hours a week. It launched its service that same day in defiance of the regulations.
Its drivers went through Uber’s background checks, but not fingerprint checks. The company also filed a federal lawsuit against the taxi commission alleging anti-competitive practices in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act.
A state law specific to St. Louis and St. Louis County requires vehicle-for-hire drivers to undergo the fingerprint checks.
Cabdrivers must undergo drug tests, vehicle inspections and get notes from doctors to prove they’re in good health.
“These requirements are mandated by state statute, and are not subject to the discretion of the MTC,” the commission said in a statement Wednesday.
Uber’s suit last month sought a temporary restraining order to allow the ride-hailing service to operate freely and without any commission regulations for two weeks. A federal judge denied that request, but did not rule on the merits of the case.
In its lawsuit, the San Francisco-based company is seeking to prevent the taxi commission from conducting its allegedly anti-competitive practices. Uber has said St. Louis is the largest metropolitan area in the country not to allow UberX.
The company called its legal moves “a last resort to provide residents with the same transportation options they have in other cities.”
State law requires that four members of the commission, which includes eight members and a chairman, be from the local taxi industry. Three members currently are, but a taxi driver is supposed to be on the commission as well. That spot has been vacant since August 2013.
St. Louis police have said UberX drivers in the city will not be ticketed. Mayor Francis Slay supports allowing UberX drivers to operate without fingerprint checks.
St. Louis County police will cite UberX drivers, but none have been ticketed for being in violation of the vehicle-for-hire rules, a police spokesman said Wednesday. County Executive Steve Stenger supports the fingerprint checks.
So on Monday, the taxi commission filed suit in St. Louis County Circuit Court against Uber Technologies and its related operating entities for violating Missouri law by operating UberX service within St. Louis County and in St. Louis.
“There is no legal impediment for Uber lawfully entering the St. Louis market,” said Neil Bruntrager, the commission’s attorney in the statement. “They have simply chosen to ignore Missouri law.”
The suit also names 19 Uber drivers.
“We’re not surprised the MTC is yet again trying to stifle competition and deny people the transportation choices they have in other cities. Their anti-competitive conduct is not only wrong, it’s illegal,” said Sagar Shah, general manager for Uber in St. Louis, in a statement.
He said the company looks forward to resolving its case in court and continuing to serve the people of St. Louis.
Of those drivers named, 11 don’t have a commercial driver’s license. One has a larceny conviction.
Such a conviction could mean a driver would be refused a permit to drive, Bruntrager said, although there can be mitigating circumstances.
“It’s an integrity issue, so it’s something we pay attention to,” he said.
Each UberX driver is subject to a $200 fine per trip for driving without a permit.
Bruntrager said the drivers named in the suit were found by summoning rides on the Uber app.
Another driver has an open warrant, the suit alleges. None have applied for a vehicle-for-hire license and all are in violation of the vehicle-for-hire code, the commission said.
The suit also says that an UberX driver who has been ferrying passengers here has a suspended driver’s license.
A hearing is set for Tuesday on the request for a restraining order.