Taxi commission asks court to stop Uber from operating in St. Louis
The Metropolitan Taxicab Commission has asked a St. Louis County judge to force Uber to stop operating in St. Louis.
The regulatory body on Monday filed suit against the company, 19 alleged UberX drivers, and anyone else who may have driven a vehicle for UberX, saying the parties are operating in direct violation of the Commission's vehicle-for-hire code.
UberX began operating in St. Louis and St. Louis County in September, in direct defiance of the Taxicab Commission. It also filed an anti-trust lawsuit against the MTC, the same day the commission voted to allow UberX to operate as long as drivers were fingerprinted.
The application for a temporary restraining order alleges that Uber X is a transportation network company. The vehicle-for-hire code says drivers for such companies must undergo fingerprint and background checks, and have a class E chauffeurs' license. The vehicles must also be registered with the MTC. The lawsuit says that 10 of the 19 named drivers did not have the appropriate driver's license, and none had gotten the necessary registrations from the MTC.
The lawsuit also alleged that the background checks conducted by UberX were insufficient. One driver, the MTC claimed, has a suspended license and another a pending warrant in Wellston for a moving violation. A third has a larceny conviction for stealing between $50 and $200.
"Defendant's actions put the general public in the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County at an immediate risk of harm because the Metropolitan Taxicab Commission has no current means to verify the safety of the vehicles for hire or to confirm that the drivers are appropriate candidates for operation of vehicles for hire in the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County," the MTC lawsuit said. "Defendant's conduct resulted in irreparable harm to the Metropolitan Taxicab Commission because Defendants disregard for the Metropolitan Taxicab Commission Vehicle for Hire code will materially and detrimentally the Metropolitan Taxicab's ability to exercise its police power to protect the public."
In a statement, Sagar Shah, the general manager of Uber St. Louis, said he was not surprised the MTC was "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," Shah said. "We look forward to resolving our case in court and continuing to serve the people of St. Louis with safe rides and more economic opportunities."
Ride-sharing and the courts
This is not the first time the MTC has gone to court to defend its authority to regulate ride-sharing services and stop them from operating in the St. Louis area.
In April 2014, Uber's competitor Lyft began offering rides in the St. Louis area, despite a cease-and-desist order from the MTC. (Unlike Uber, the Lyft had not been working with regulators before it launched.) The MTC won a temporary restraining order, and later a preliminary injunction, which has been in place since July 2014. A hearing in the case is scheduled for December 7.
The taxi commission has allowed two app-based transportation companies to operate in the St. Louis area. Uber Black, which allows people to book town cars and other premium sedans on demand, launched in St. Louis nearly a year ago. Carmel Car, a company that dispatches traditional cabs, has been in the St. Louis market since 2014.
Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann