Friday, April 25, 2014

As Lyft Fights Back in St. Louis, Rival App Uber Gets Support from Mayor Slay

Posted By on Fri, Apr 25, 2014 at 7:00 AM

click to enlarge Lyft's rival, Uber, also has its eyes on St. Louis. - RAIDO KALDMA ON FLICKR

Mayor Francis Slay says he's urging the Metropolitan Taxicab Commission to accept proposed changes that would allow Uber, a ride-sharing app like Lyft or Carmel, to go live in St. Louis.

Uber's rival Lyft launched in St. Louis a week ago, despite not obtaining licensing from the taxi commission. Three drivers have been cited for illegally operating a ride-for-hire service, and a judge granted a temporary restraining order against the company soon thereafter.

"[Uber] has led me to believe that if those changes were made, it would abide by the other 80 pages of regulations and would seek certification from the commission," Slay posts on Facebook. "Time will tell if Lyft ultimately opts to follow its larger competitor's useful example."

See also: Lyft Never Told New Drivers It's Technically Illegal, Not Licensed in St. Louis

John Zimmer, cofounder of Lyft, sent the app's users explaining the company's legal troubles in St. Louis.

"As pioneers of peer-to-peer transportation, we are revolutionizing how people get around and connect with their neighbors," Zimmer says. "But change raises challenges from those who want to preserve the status quo."

The letter deftly avoids the question of whether Lyft drivers are still working in St. Louis, but ever since the injunction started, fewer and fewer drivers have been active on the app.

click to enlarge The first Lyft driver is cited in St. Louis. - LINDSAY TOLER
  • Lindsay Toler
  • The first Lyft driver is cited in St. Louis.

"We are pursuing all legal avenues to defend Lyft and our community members, and will keep working with city officials to find a solution that puts the interests of the people of St. Louis first."

See also: Judge Says Lyft Must Stop in St. Louis; Lyft Calls Restraining Order "Bullying and Intimidation"

Cara Spencer, who operates Nebula coworking space on Cherokee Street, started an online petition asking city officials to support ridesharing, including Lyft, which runs local operations out of Nebula. The petition has more than 1,500 signatures.

"The on-call transportation industry changing," Spencer says in the petition. "Now is the time for city leaders to decide if St. Louis will lead or follow."

Spencer tells Daily RFT she launched her petition after seeing so many other Lyft supporters frustrated by the legal roadblocks the company has faced since last Friday.

"The goal is to provide a way to gather support in one place in order to inform our city leaders that many of our citizens support ridesharing," Spencer says.

"Lyft is a great way to leverage technology to connect people, use existing resources more efficiently and provide more consumer choices in transportation."

But Spencer's petition isn't just about making Lyft legal in St. Louis; rather, she says it's about supporting multimodal transportation and regional collaboration.

"I think this is about St. Louis embracing new technologies," Spencer tells Daily RFT. "To be a progressive city, we are going to have to be open to change."

See also: Taxi Driver: Lyft is as Bad for St. Louis Workers as Walmart, Fast Food

Spencer says she has noticed one local politician, Mayor Slay, who is "embracing innovative transportation options." Slay says he's asking the taxi commission to change laws that prevent companies like Uber to operate in St. Louis.

"I support technology, including so-called 'disruptive' technology," Slay says. "I also believe that no matter how sophisticated the technology is, regulations to protect public safety are generally necessary, and should always be enforced. So: We need rules, but they have to be smart."

Follow Lindsay Toler on Twitter at @StLouisLindsay. E-mail the author at Lindsay.Toler@RiverfrontTimes.com.

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