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Laclede Cab has an app

Adam McNutt, president of Laclede Cab, demonstrates the company's iPhone app, STLtaxi, that shows the customer's location and active cabs in the area at the company's headquarters on S. Vandeventer on Wednesday, July 8, 2015, in St. Louis. Laclede Cab switched to a computerized GPS dispatching system in 2010 and offers a mobile phone app for scheduling a pick-up, tracking the assigned taxi and even paying the fare. Photo by Chris Lee, clee@post-dispatch.com

A smartphone app could be on the way that will allow St. Louis area passengers to hail taxis the same way they summon an Uber car.

The St. Louis Metropolitan Taxicab Commission on Tuesday unanimously voted to proceed with plans for a single app that would link all the licensed cabs in St. Louis and St. Louis County.

With a tap on their phone, passengers would be able to choose the closest cab or a particular cab company.

The move comes at a time when traditional cab companies are struggling to be competitive against companies such as UberX, an app-based ride-hailing service in which drivers use their own cars to ferry passengers, heralded for its convenience.

Making hailing cabs more convenient benefits the taxi industry and the community, said Ron Klein, the taxi commission’s director.

“People want to be able to press on their smartphone and request a ride. And most times, they don’t care who it is as long as somebody gets there quickly to pick them up,” Klein said.

All new cab companies already are required to have an app, and existing companies must have an app by next year. Many local cab companies — including Laclede Cab Co., St. Louis County Cab and Yellow Cab as well as ABC and Checker Cab — have been using their own apps for a while. But there’s no app that allows someone here to summon the closest cab, something that other cities including Houston, Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles have.

The taxi commission is expected to vote at its October meeting on a request for proposals for an app design, and all cabs in St. Louis and St. Louis County would be mandated to link to the app.

Tom Reeves, the commission’s chairman, said it’s hoped that the app would be able to be used in other cities, and not just in the St. Louis area, for the ease of travelers.

Ride-hailing has had a contentious entry into the St. Louis market — UberX has been working in violation of local vehicle-for-hire laws for one year.

The taxi commission voted on Sept. 18, 2015, to allow ride-hailing services, but it required drivers to be fingerprinted and possess a Class E Missouri commercial driver’s license, also known as a chauffeur’s license. Those terms are dictated by a state law specific to St. Louis and St. Louis County.

That same day, Uber launched UberX, even though drivers had not met the requirements set by the taxi commission, and the company filed a federal lawsuit against the commission alleging anti-competitive practices in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. UberX has operated in defiance of commission regulations since then.

On Oct. 5, the commission filed its own suit seeking to have Uber barred from operating. A hearing is set for next month.

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Leah Thorsen is a regional reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Email her at lthorsen@post-dispatch.com and follow her on Twitter: @leahthorsen