Lyft, the app-based, on-demand ride-sharing business based in San Francisco, plans to go live in St. Louis at 7 p.m. Friday.
The company has been building up for months to launch in the Lou, advertising jobs for drivers on Facebook and Craigslist, and interviewing hundreds of applicants at Nebula coworking space on Cherokee Street.
But Lyft won't have the special dispatch license developed by the St. Louis Metropolitan Taxicab Commission for ride-sharing apps by Friday. St. Louis City and County rules say any companies that operate or dispatch vehicles for hire must be certified.
"If they do not comply with the taxicab commission, they will be operating illegally and would be in violation of the law," MTC spokesman Richard Callow tells the St. Louis Business Journal.
But Lyft isn't a taxi service, says Paige Thelen, a spokeswoman for Lyft. Riders hail cars with their smartphones, not on the street. Lyft's drivers are typically students, entrepreneurs, artists and other folks looking to make some side cash by driving clients in their own cars -- not professional, full-time taxi drivers.
Plus, Lyft doesn't charge a fare. Instead, the app suggests a donation, and Lyft gets a cut.
"Applying for that license would be like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole," Thelen tells Daily RFT.
For anyone with an eye on St. Louis' social-media scene, it's been clear that Lyft excites St. Louisans more than the city's current, legally certified ride-sharing app, Carmel. Thelen says she hopes St. Louis officials will let Lyft operate without a license.
"We've seen the community already express excitement and enthusiasm," Thelen says. "We believe the city would not want to take that away from its residents."
Part of St. Louis' licensing process includes proving that car dispatchers meet certain safety requirements for insurance, vehicle safety, driver background checks and more. Lyft backs up its service with a $1 million insurance policy covering passengers and third parties, and another $1 million policy covering drivers if they are hit by an uninsured motorist.
Lyft drivers must be 23 years old and pass a criminal background check that includes national, county and sex-offender databases.
Potential drivers are disqualified from working for Lyft if they've had:
- more than two moving violations in the past three years
- any major violation (such as driving on a suspended license) in the past three years
- a DUI or drug-related driving violation or severe infraction (such as driving faster than 100 mph) in the past seven years
- more than one severe infraction, ever
- any extreme infraction in their lifetime driving history, such as a hit-and-run or a felony involving a vehicle
Thelen says the city's growing tech and creative scenes drew Lyft to St. Louis and could potentially expand beyond its current coverage area, which reaches to Arnold in the south, Defiance in the west, St. Charles in the north and downtown in the east.
"We wanted to be part of the community," Thelen says. "Many residents rely on their own personal cars to get around. We believe Lyft will allow people to be a little more flexible."