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Testimony In Lyft Hearing Ends; Decision About The Ride-Sharing App To Come

Sergio Ruiz (https://flic.kr/p/hvgyTB)

The courtroom battle between ride-sharing app Lyft and the taxi commission came to a close Wednesday. After four days of testimony. Both sides have called their last witnesses. The taxi commission is seeking a preliminary injunction in St. Louis Circuit Court to prevent Lyft from doing business. 

Lyft's strategy during the trial was essentially tit for tat. For every expert the Metropolitan Taxicab Commission called, Lyft had one to match -- and more.

The taxi commission called its director, Ronald Klein, who testified he thinks Lyft cars are taxis, just with pink mustaches instead of taxi lights. So, Lyft had government relations manager Joseph Okpaku on the witness stand. He explained how Lyft cars are not taxis, but essentially a platform that connects people with cars. 

The distinction matters because if Lyft cars are determined to be taxis, the company will have to be regulated by the Metropolitan Taxicab Commission and abide by the city and state's taxi code. The law would require Lyft to get a special permit to operate. These permits have essentially been impossible to get, as the commission has put a moratorium on accepting permit applications since February. 

The taxi commission also called transportation expert Professor Ray Mundy, who told the court that he studied cities all over the country. He said his research showed taxi businesses have been hurt by apps like Lyft. But Lyft called its own expert professor, Dr. Carlos Sun, to say that's wrong. Sun explained that cities like Seattle show the cab business did fine after Lyft entered the market. 

Lyft also called Ward 24 Alderman Scott Ogilvie to the witness stand. He testified that he's read and written about transportation issues in St. Louis, and he's talked to people around St. Louis who have expressed interest for services like Lyft. He explained that Lyft had demand-based pricing. During peak times, he said, Lyft riders might pay more. But he contrasted that increased fare by pointing out that people relying on traditional taxis might pay with their time -- waiting up to an hour for a cab. He added that he's looked at data on drunk driving, and noted that the times when drunk driving is high coincides with when taxi wait times are longest. 

Lawyers from the two sides will submit written closing arguments a week from Monday. Judge Joan Moriarty will have a lot to mull over. Her decision is not expected until early June.