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New Way To Hail A Cab Approved: Taxi Commission Okays First Dispatch App License

(Kelsey Proud/St. Louis Public Radio and the Beacon)
Screen capture of Carmel Car's app, which will be available in St. Louis on Monday.

St. Louisans will soon have a new way to hail cabs in the region. The Metropolitan Taxicab Commission on Tuesday approved a license for Carmel Car and Limo to start offering its smartphone app in St. Louis.

The New York-based Carmel is the first company to apply for and receive the new dispatch license created by the commission specifically for such companies. Unlike Uber and Lyft, two popular ride-hailing apps, Carmel does not contract with individual drivers. Instead, it negotiates agreements with existing taxi and private sedan companies to dispatch their vehicles via a smartphone app. If no contracts are signed, there's no business for Carmel. Like other companies with car-hailing apps, Carmel makes money by keeping a negotiated portion of the fares it charges.

"They get exposure to global markets," said Carmel CEO Avik Kabessa about the companies that use his app. "We bring them to global markets — that's tourists, visitors, locals. We have a lot of airline relationships, so we definitely augment their exposure."

Many St. Louis cab companies have their own dispatching apps, and two companies are using TaxiMagic. But Kabessa says passengers who use Carmel's app can get airline reward miles. The company also offers a monitoring service that can alert you if there's unexpected activity on your account.

The Carmel app is already available in more than 300 cities around the world, including 150 in the United States. It was most recently made available in Dallas, Nashville, Los Angeles, San Diego, Tampa, Fla., Washington, D.C., and New York. St. Louis appears to be the first city to create a license specifically for on-demand transportation applications.

Ronald Klein, the taxi commission's executive director, said the license gives the commission oversight of rides booked via Carmel's app, which gives passengers a way to resolve disputes over prices or customer service issues. Commission oversight also ensures that drivers receive proper background checks and carry the right amount of insurance.

Like Kabessa, Klein believes Carmel will boost business for the companies that use the app. But owners of private chauffeured car services say they're apprehensive about the company's arrival. Kim Garner, a co-owner of Best Transportation, said she worries that Carmel will eventually start working directly with drivers, rather than going through the existing companies — and that the commission won’t be able to stop it.

"Right now, there’s other operators that operate illegally within St. Louis, sedan operators, and they’re not able to control that, so how are they going to be able to control and monitor this?" she asked. Taxis that operate out of the cab line at Lambert Airport were also concerned that Carmel would undercut their business.

Kabessa said his company does not believe in bypassing companies and has no plans to go directly to drivers.

"They don't know the partnership we run," he said. "We actually think that the only way to work is through the local companies."

Kabessa said the app dispatched about 300 to 500 vehicles a day during a test run in St. Louis. He did not say how that compared to other cities where the app is available, but said Carmel does not go into cities unless companies have expressed interest.

"I think there's been a call by the public for this kind of service," said Klein, the commission's executive director. "We're responding to the call from the public."

The app will be available starting Monday.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Share what you know about car services, as a source through our Public Insight Network: How do you get around town when you don't want to drive?

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.