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St. Louis area taxi drivers file suit against Uber

St. Louis area taxi drivers file suit against Uber

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UberX in St. Louis

UberX driver Ryan Halinski, 33, of Chesterfield, gives a ride to Daniel J. Gore (left), 25, of Stratford, Conn. and Simona Selamwit, 22, of Warren, Ohio, on Friday, Sept. 18, 2015, UberX's first day of operation in St. Louis. Gore and Selamwit work for American Cruise Lines and got a ride to try out the food at Sweetie Pie's on Delmar. Photo by Cristina M. Fletes, cfletes@post-dispatch.com

ST. LOUIS COUNTY • Four taxi drivers are suing Uber and seeking class-action status, alleging they’ve seen up to a 40 percent dip in business since the ride-hailing service began operating in violation of local regulations.

The plaintiffs in the suit filed in St. Louis County Circuit Court are Aaron Vilcek and Jeffrey Hamilton, drivers for St. Louis County Cab; Robert Glynn, who drives for Laclede Cab; and Douglas Uchendi, an ABC Cab driver.

On Sept. 18, the St. Louis Metropolitan Taxicab Commission voted to allow ride-hailing services such as UberX, an app-based service in which drivers use their own cars to ferry passengers, but directed that drivers be fingerprinted as part of a criminal background check.

Drivers for ride-hailing services also are required to possess a class E Missouri commercial drivers license, also known as a chauffeur’s license.

Those requirements are mandated by Missouri law, the commission said. The state law that requires vehicle-for-hire drivers to have fingerprint checks is specific to St. Louis and St. Louis County.

Local cabdrivers also must have drug tests, vehicle inspections and get notes from doctors to prove they’re in good health.

But Uber described the regulations as onerous, saying it conducts its own background checks of drivers, many of whom drive less than six hours a week — but not fingerprint checks.

On the same day the taxicab commission approved ride-hailing services, Uber launched UberX in defiance of commission regulations and filed a federal lawsuit against the commission alleging anti-competitive practices in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act.

Uber has said St. Louis is the largest metropolitan area in the country not to allow UberX.

Then in October, the taxi commission filed suit against Uber and sought a restraining order to bar it from operating in the city and in St. Louis County.

Both suits are being heard in federal court. A hearing is set for Thursday.

The latest suit, which was filed Friday, alleges that Uber’s service and its drivers are “functionally and legally indistinguishable” from taxi services and taxi drivers in St. Louis and St. Louis County.

“The purpose of the suit is to recognize that Uber is operating illegally and as a result of that, the existing taxi drivers are being harmed,” said Gary Growe, the Clayton attorney representing the taxi drivers.

He said if class-action status is granted, the suit could cover the roughly 1,100 cabdrivers licensed by the taxi commission.

Since Uber began operating, the plaintiffs have seen a drop in revenue of 30 percent to 40 percent compared to the same time period last year due to a decrease in passenger calls, the suit alleges. It also says those drops were directly caused by Uber’s entry into the local taxi market.

An Uber spokeswoman said Monday that the company had not yet seen the suit and declined to comment.

The plaintiff’s individual damages are less than $75,000 each, the suit says, and the damages sought in a class-action case would be less than $5 million.

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