It’ll be easier to use ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft throughout Missouri, especially airports, under the bill signed Monday by Gov. Eric Greitens.
Before, local governments regulated the services. Taxi companies were sharply critical of the services, especially the manner in which Uber performed background checks on their drivers. The St. Louis Metropolitan Taxicab Commission went so far as to block both Uber and Lyft in 2014 and 2015 from legally operating in St. Louis or St. Louis County.
Deregulating the services “gets rid of a whole thicket of regulations that were set up by special interests all over the state to prevent this,” Greitens said of the bill that was sponsored by Rep. Kirk Mathews, R-St. Louis County.
Upon the bill being signed, Greitens said, Uber began service immediately in St. Charles and Jefferson City, and he said he expects Lyft to begin operating in the state soon. Already, ride-hailing companies operate in St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield and Columbia.
The rules require each company to pay a $5,000 licensing fee, which will go to the Missouri Department of Revenue, and set up separate contracts with airports. Individual drivers would have to have liability insurance and submit to background checks, but wouldn’t be required to obtain a chauffeur’s license.
Uber still has to negotiate with St. Louis Lambert Airport to expand its service there, according to Andy Hung, Uber’s general manager for Missouri and Kansas. But he said the new law would make things easier for both drivers and consumers.
“Having a patchwork of regulations makes it really hard for drivers,” Hung said. “And now you can pick up in one city, drop off in another city and pick up a new rider in that city. It just makes it easier for riders and drivers to have a uniform set of regulations.”
In years past, the St. Louis taxi commission strongly opposed Mathews’ legislation. Commission Chairman W. Thomas Reeves said Monday in a statement that his group would make sure “that passengers using locally-regulated vehicles for hire enjoy the highest levels of security and reliability, and that the taxi industry remains a competitive employer of thousands of St Louisans."
Reeves also said the commission plans to seek input about any changes it needs to go in order to comply with the new law, such as overhauling of taxi fee structures, following rules of conduct and appearance, scheduling and doing background checks for drivers.
St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger said in a statement “we are currently reviewing the legislation and assessing its impact.”
Greitens reflects on Schaaf attack ad
Greitens also fielded questions from reporters on Monday, including one about his increasingly acrimonious relationship with Republican Sen. Rob Schaaf of St. Joseph.
A New Missouri Inc., a Greitens-aligned 501(c)(4) group that isn’t beholden to campaign finance laws and doesn’t have to disclose its donors, has been running digital ads that say Schaaf is “siding with liberals” and “playing personal political games.” One ad featured Schaaf’s personal phone number, which Greitens’ chief advisor Austin Chambers encouraged people to call or text.
Schaaf tweeted Monday morning that one of the ads “made me laugh out loud! It's so over the top! But I'm sad for our governor. Posting this makes him look pathetic.” He also told other media outlets he won’t stop gumming up the works in the Senate.
Asked why he and Schaaf couldn’t work out their differences privately, Greitens said the “organization that you’re referring to is one that I have no day-to-day responsibilities with. It’s an organization that’s separate from the governor’s office.”
“It does represent the interests of thousands of people around the state of Missouri who care about seeing our priorities get passed,” Greitens said. “And there are lots of organizations like this that want to make sure that we get a conservative agenda passed. And you won’t be surprised that they’re standing up and that they’re fighting for those priorities.”
Among other things, Schaaf has been sharply critical of the formation of A New Missouri, and has sponsored legislation to force politically active nonprofits to reveal their donors.
In a January 2016 episode of the Politically Speaking podcast, Greitens criticized the practice of setting up political groups that don’t disclose their donors, saying, “I’ve been very proud to tell people, ‘I’m stepping forward, and you can see every single one of our donors, because we are proud of our donors and we are proud of the campaign we are running.”
When asked about those comments, Greitens said: “Again, this is an organization that’s separate from me. It’s separate from the governor’s office.”
“We’ve been very clear that we obviously release all of the donors to our campaign. And we’ve done that,” Greitens added. “I think that our ethics agenda has been incredibly clear from the very beginning. And that’s to make sure that we close the revolving door between legislators and lobbyists, that we make sure that there are term limits put in place for every statewide officeholder, and that once and for all we put a ban on gifts from lobbyists to legislators.”
With only a few weeks left in the legislative session, Greitens said he wants to see lawmakers establish a “Blue Alert” system that sends out public messages when a law enforcement officer is assaulted — a bill that Schaaf also has delayed on the Senate floor, but because of his spat with Greitens, not the content of the measure.
Greitens also said there are things “like labor reform, tort reform and on education reform that we need to get done,” pointing specifically to a proposal to establish “education saving accounts” for students. The session ends May 12.
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