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Taxicab Commission tickets UberX drivers, but the service continues locally

Companies like Uber say they employ cutting-edge technology to pick up riders and allow them to pay electronically.
File photo | Joseph Leahy | St. Louis Public Radio
Uber, MTC

Thousands of UberX drivers continue giving rides in St. Louis and St. Louis County despite efforts by the St. Louis Metropolitan Taxicab Commission to ticket them for doing so.

The MTC announced last March it would begin citing the ride-hailing company’s drivers for failing to have a vehicle-for-hire license, which requires a fingerprint background check under state law. So far, MTC enforcement agents have issued about 18 citations, said Executive Director Ron Klein.

“We could actually take a very aggressive stance, but with any enforcement, we’re looking to get them into compliance, not be punitive,” he said, explaining the commission has only two to three enforcement agents available to write the tickets and no county or municipal police resources are involved in the effort.

Exactly how the MTC has cited drivers remains unclear. Transactions between passengers and drivers are automated through smart phone apps, and the vehicles are not required to display they work for UberX.

Klein also declined to elaborate how drivers are cited, except to say the tickets are issued in person.

“We would rather not discuss the particulars of our enforcement actions.

It’s kind of something that we don’t want to put out there.”

The penalty and cost of the tickets are also somewhat unclear as citations issued by the MTC are processed in the municipality where the driver is cited.

Klein said most of the 18 tickets have been issued in St. Louis, but according to the city counselor’s office there is no set amount for MTC violations. Maggie Crane, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office said, in an email:

“Formally -- Ordinance 66083 (which adopts the MTC code) provides a penalty clause under section four for a fine not more than $500.00 or imprisonment up to 90 days.”

An Uber representative declined to say whether the company was offering guidance to its drivers or would help pay for the tickets, but in a statement said “…we stand by our partners and will continue support their choice to utilize Uber as a flexible earning opportunity.”

"...if you want to operate in St. Louis then this is what you’re required to do."

The company says it thoroughly vets drivers through its own background checks and the fingerprint background checks are unnecessary.

Klein said the state law that requires vehicle-for-hire drivers to have fingerprint checks is specific to St. Louis and St. Louis County.

“I’m hoping that this can be resolved with [Uber] understanding that it’s the law; and if you want to operate in St. Louis then this is what you’re required to do,” he said.

UberX currently operates in Columbia, Kansas City and St. Louis – each city having its own set of vehicle-for-hire regulations to follow. The MTC began ticketing last spring after the state legislature failed to pass legislation that would establish uniform regulations for transportation network companies (TNC) in Missouri.

Last September MTC commissioners voted to allow ride-hailing services, but only if drivers were fingerprinted and possessed a vehicle-for-hire license. Uber launched its UberX service the same day, even though its drivers had not met the requirements, and has operated in defiance ofcommission regulations ever since.

Uber and the MTC both have federal lawsuits pending against the other. Uber is suing the commission alleging anti-competitive practices in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. The commission is suing to have UberX barred from operating. Klein said the commission is seeking an injunction against UberX as the case proceeds.

(Editor's note: Joseph Leahy worked as an UberX driver in St. Louis for a short period of time in late 2015 and early 2016. He is no longer is employed by UberX.)

Follow Joseph Leahy on Twitter: @joemikeleahy