Uber Sues St. Louis Taxi Commission to Allow Ride Sharing

  • Uber accuses officials, cab industry of antitrust violations
  • St. Louis is biggest U.S. city to still ban service, Uber Says

An Uber Technologies Inc. company accused the St. Louis Metropolitan Taxicab Commission in a lawsuit of functioning as a cartel with cab companies to ban its ride-sharing service in what it says is the largest U.S. city without it.

Uber, along with would-be drivers and riders, alleges the commission and cab companies conspired in violation of U.S. antitrust law and seeks a court order forcing officials to allow customers to use its UberX service.

U.S. District Judge Henry Autrey in St. Louis rejected Uber USA LLC’s request to issue a temporary restraining order Friday.

This year, Uber has gone toe to toe with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio over regulations in the nation’s largest city, and the company has run into strident opposition from taxi drivers in the U.S. and abroad as it has expanded to build its business, valued at $50 billion.

On Friday, Uber began providing service in the city and surrounding St. Louis County, leaving city and county officials at odds over what to do.

Enforcement Split

A spokesman for St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, who has supported Uber’s efforts, said its drivers wouldn’t be cited or arrested. A spokesman for St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger said laws restricting ride-sharing operations would be enforced.

Uber and the commission have been fighting for more than a year, primarily over a requirement for drivers to be fingerprinted. Uber contends the requirement is onerous and discriminates against minorities.

Neil Bruntrager, attorney for the commission, said the fingerprinting was required by state law. The commission has defended the provision, which applies to cab drivers, as a public safety measure.

Bruntrager said the commission “was going to explore all of the enforcement options we have.” Asked about the mayor’s statement, he said. “It’s unfortunate when an elected official would say he has decided not to enforce the law.”

Uber alleges the commission “has acted to protect the entrenched taxicab industry.” Commission chairman Louis Hamilton is on the board of the International Association of Transportation Regulators, an industry trade group, according to the complaint By state law, four members of the commission must be from the taxicab industry.

58,000 Downloads

Brooke Anderson, a spokeswoman for Uber, said 1,900 St. Louis drivers have passed its operational and background checks, and that 58,000 people in the area have downloaded the app used to summon, track and pay for cars.

The plaintiffs include Marsha Robyn Wallen of St. Louis, who is legally blind and who depends on taxis for transportation. Traditional taxicabs are unreliable, she said in the complaint.

Uber filed the suit as a commission meeting began Friday morning. The commission voted 7-1 to allow Uber to operate, but only if it fingerprinted drivers.

The first Uber rider was Chris Sommers, the lone commissioner to side with the San Francisco-based company in Friday’s vote.

The case is Wallen v. St. Louis Metropolitan Taxicab Commission, 15-cv-01432, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Missouri (St. Louis).

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