St. Louis Cabbies Take the Fight to Uber

     CLAYTON, Mo. (CN) – Uber’s illegal entry into the St. Louis market tortiously interfered with licensed cab drivers’ business, robbing them of one-third of their income, cabbies claim in a class action.
     Four independent contractor taxi drivers sued Uber USA and Uber Technologies on Nov. 12, in St. Louis County Circuit Court.
     “Since Uber’s unlawful entry into the St. Louis City and County taxicab market, plaintiffs and members of the putative class have experienced decreases in revenue of 30-40 percent compared to the comparable time period in 2014, resulting from a decrease in passenger calls,” the complaint states.
     “Passenger calls and revenue decreases began on or about Sept. 18, 2015 and were directly caused by Uber’s unlawful entry into the St. Louis City and County taxicab market.”
     Uber began operating in the St. Louis area this fall, in defiance of state regulations.
     On Sept. 18, the St. Louis Metropolitan Taxicab Commission (MTC), which regulates the industry for the St. Louis metropolitan area, voted to allow Uber to operate, it its drivers were fingerprinted as part of background checks.
     Claiming that requirement was too burdensome, Uber asked a federal judge to issue a temporary restraining order against it. Uber began operating without adhering to the fingerprint requirement, even after U.S. District Judge Henry Autrey denied its request for a temporary restraining order.
     The St. Louis Metropolitan Taxicab Commission countered with a lawsuit in October, asking a St. Louis County judge to ban Uber from the area. That case has been moved to federal court and is pending.
     In the proposed class action, lead plaintiff Aaron Vilcek says Uber is capable of complying with the Taxi Code, but its “intentional and contemptuous disregard for the MTC’s authority and rules” puts licensed cab drivers at a disadvantage. In addition to blowing off the fingerprinting, Uber need not even have a valid Class E chauffer’s license in Missouri, the cabbies say.
     “When Uber began operating its ‘ride sharing service’ in St. Louis City and County Sept. 18, 2015, its drivers became direct competitors with plaintiffs and the putative class,” the lawsuit states. “This competition was unlawful because it was in violation of the Taxi Code and the MTC’s regulations, as well as in violation of the statute creating and enabling the MTC. Uber’s direct, unlawful competition with plaintiffs and the putative class has interfered with plaintiffs’ and the putative class’s present and expected future business relationships with current and prospective passengers.”
     Uber said that during its first weekend in St. Louis its drivers provided more than 5,000 rides, according to the complaint. Uber generally takes 20 percent of its drivers’ fares, the cabbies say.
     They cite a statement Uber made in 2014, that “St. Louis is the largest city in the U.S. that does not provide residents and visitors with access to transportation options such as Uber.”
     The cabbies seek class certification and punitive damages for lost income, tortious interference and willful violation of state laws.
     They are represented by Gary Growe with Growe Eisen Karlen in St. Louis.
     Uber did not respond to an email request for comment late Monday afternoon.

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