Judge puts brakes on Lyft ride sharing service in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI)– A St. Louis judge says the ride sharing company, Lyft, cannot operate in the city of St. Louis or St. Louis County until a May hearing over its apparent refusal to abide by the rules of the St. Louis Metropolitan Taxi Commission. But more than two hours after the order was issued, Lyft was still picking up passengers.

Lyft began operation in St. Louis last weekend. The service operates through a software application. A passenger calls for a “Lyft,” on his or her smartphone, and a driver gets the message and picks them up. The company says payment is made through “donations,” not fares, an apparent sidestep of taxi commissions in cities where Lyft operates.

“They are charging a fare,” Taxi Commission attorney Chuck Billings said in an interview Monday. “They have a price list. If you don’t pay the fare, you will not be invited back to use your app to get a Lyft ride. It’s a farce, but that’s secondary. This is a public safety issue.”

He says lack of regulation for the company can lead to safety issues for passengers and drivers. He claims a Lyft driver cited over the weekend had an outstanding felony warrant.

“We check the drivers, they check insurance to make sure they comply with state law. They haven’t done any of this because they haven’t contacted us. They haven’t made application like everyone else.”

A Lyft driver we spoke to says she was vetted by the company.

“Everybody who has been selected to work at Lyft has gone through extensive background checks and DMV checks and everything I would suspect someone who drives a taxi goes through,” Lyft driver Stephanie Ingles told us.

Ingles arrived at Fox 2’s live van on in South St. Louis fewer than ten minutes after we called her on the Lyft app, Monday.   We contacted her more than two hours after the temporary restraining order was issued. She said she had no idea a judge had ruled, and conceded that made her a little nervous.

“Yes I am worried about getting a ticket for doing this,” she told us.

But she also said company representatives have promised to pay any citations drivers are given.

We reached out to a spokesperson for the company, who answered our request for comment late in the day via email.

“We are always open to working with city leaders to discuss Lyft’s peer-to-peer business model,” Paige Thelen wrote, “but the company has not received any documentation regarding a temporary restraining order against Lyft in St. Louis. We are trying to learn more and I will circle back with you once I have additional information.”

Caught in the middle of the dispute are St. Louis taxi cab drivers. Umar Lee wrote a scathing blog about Lyft that was republished on the national online news site, the Huffington Post, this past weekend.

“It’s the WalMartization,” Lee told Fox 2. “It’s driving down the costs. It’s driving down the wages.”

He said Lyft is coming in, skirting rules, and undercutting his means to feed his family.

“What St. Louis cab drivers are asking for is a level playing field. We see the arrival of Lyft in St. Louis as not only an attack on the profession, but an attack on good paying jobs.

“This is not a play thing,” he continued. “This is not a part time thing. This is a six day a week, 10-12 hour a day job that I use to support my family and to pay my bills.”

Former Missouri Senator Joan Bray, who shares office space with Lyft, says she supports the company and believes the city should, too. She’s says Lyft is the kind of innovative company St. Louis is trying to attract.

“People love to go to San Diego, they love to go to Seattle, they love to go to Denver,” she said. “They love to go to these places that have great spirit and lots of young people. St. Louis is just gonna kill it if they do things like this.”

As for the impact Lyft and others like it might have on the taxi industry:

“I would hope there could be coexistence, but also maybe something about the taxi cab industry needs to update itself,” she said.

 

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