By Kevin McDermott
In a move that could open Missouri to thousands of jobs for Uber and Lyft drivers while pounding another nail in the tire of traditional taxi services, Gov. Eric Greitens on Monday signed legislation paving the way for the new transportation companies to more easily operate statewide, effectively superseding local fees and regulations.
One immediate consequence of the new law could be to spawn a major push by taxi companies in St. Louis and other cities to demand that local regulators lighten their rules and fees to match what the new state system will do for Uber, Lyft and other services like them.
"Today is a great day for jobs in Missouri," Greitens said at a public bill-signing ceremony at St. Charles Community College, before an auditorium packed with state lawmakers, supporters of the measure and a few protesters.
"Thousands of Missourians will now have good work readily available," Greitens said, adding: "It shows that as a state, we are committed to fighting for jobs ... (and) that Missouri is open for business."
The bill -- long sought by "transportation network companies" like Uber and Lyft and opposed by the traditional taxi industry -- sets statewide regulatory standards for the companies and their part-time, independent-operator drivers, smoothing over the state's patchwork of local regulations. Those rules had created a scenario where Uber drivers were operating under different sets of rules in different cities or counties, sometimes even facing multiple sets of regulations within the same trip.
Andy Hung, general manager for Uber in Missouri, attended the bill signing and told reporters afterward that the company began expansion of its app-based services as soon as Greitens' signature was on the law.
"We've had people opening up the app, thousands of people across Missouri wanting to ride or drive, and now we're able to expand across the state," he said. "I'm very proud the say that we are currently live in St. Charles and Jefferson City. ... You can request a ride in St. Charles right now, today, and go wherever you want."
Lyft issued a statement after the signing, lauding "this important legislation."
"We look forward to announcing expansion plans soon and bringing the many benefits of Lyft to more Missourians," said the statement.
One St. Louis taxi company executive said Monday the legislation codifies the "unlevel playing field" his industry has long complained of from the ride-hailing services. He said the industry here will begin lobbying local regulators to get the same kinds of fee and regulations breaks that the new legislation gives to the Ubers and Lyfts out there.
"What the law does is put taxis at a disadvantage, with minimal regulations for them," said Adam McNutt, president of Laclede Cab of St. Louis. He cited the $5,000 annual fee the ride-hailing services will have to pay to the state under the new law, a fraction of the combined fees that cab companies and drivers must pay to local regulators. "In order for us to complete, we need similar regulations."
Taxi companies have managed for years to prevent unfettered expansion of the ride-hailing services, standing on issues like the possibility that drivers with questionable backgrounds would be driving passengers. The new legislation includes statewide standards on background checks for drivers.
The legislation is House Bill 130.
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