Lyft vs. Taxis: St. Louis Alderman and Cabbie Debate St. Louis' Transportation Future


Umar Lee, a taxi driver, defends cabbies in St. Louis at the Royale. - LINDSAY TOLER
  • Lindsay Toler
  • Umar Lee, a taxi driver, defends cabbies in St. Louis at the Royale.

With St. Louis potentially days away from allowing Uber to launch here legally, two of the men leading the dialogue about ridesharing in the Lou faced off debate-style at the Royale Monday night.

Cheered on by a happily-buzzed crowd of about 30 people, Alderman Scott Ogilvie advocated for ridesharing and Lyft, the San Francisco-based company still fighting a temporary restraining order in St. Louis court, while cab driver Umar Lee stumped for the industry that is already giving people rides for money.

"My vision for the St. Louis region is a turkey in every pot and a mustache on every car," Ogilvie told the crowd.

See also: Lyft Driver Cited By St. Louis Police Says He Wasn't Doing Anything Wrong

Ogilvie's his main motivation for welcoming Lyft to St. Louis was to protect the city from drunk drivers, especially since taxi services aren't reliable enough to always pick up customers asking for rides home from the bar. Drunk drivers have killed 3,500 Missourians in the last decade, Ogilvie says.

"The reason we need rideshare services in the St. Louis region is so that some of those 3,500 dead in the last decade won't be dead in the next decade," he said, adding that Lyft may also be a faster and cheaper option than the city's highly-regulated fleet of taxis. "Let's not pretend the cab industry has a sterling record of safety or customer service."

Lee argued that cabs may be more reliable than people drunk at 2 a.m. realize. Often, Lee says, the people who order late-night rides are also too intoxicated to show up when the cab arrives.

"Don't make the cab the boogie man in this situation," Lee said. "I'm not trying to tell y'all not to drink, but you don't have to drink to the point where you don't know where you're at. Don't put it just on the cab drivers. This is everybody's responsibility, from the drinker to the bars to law enforcement."

Lyft's pink mustaches, fist bumps and overall business persona attract an urban, millennial demographic -- people concerned about "getting from the latte shop to the gastro pub a little quicker," Lee says -- which pushes out the older, racially-diverse and, often, immigrant workers supporting their families by driving cabs.

Lyft's famous pink 'stache. - LYFT
  • Lyft
  • Lyft's famous pink 'stache.

"They don't hire people from the neighborhood; they hire new residents who just showed up who are lighter in complexion and more affluent in background," Lee told the crowd. "They want the grad student who is driving to make money for weed and pizza because he is socially more similar to them."

See also: Taxi Driver: Lyft is as Bad for St. Louis Workers as Walmart, Fast Food

Ogilvie, who disagreed that hipsters are the only ones using rideshare apps, says Lyft and Uber are finally forcing the city to embrace new technologies. The Metropolitan Taxicab Commission put a moratorium on hiring new taxi drivers until a usage study is completed this fall, meaning cab drivers' jobs are officially protected.

"The (taxi) companies within these markets don't have an incentive to meet customer demands, they don't have an incentive to innovate," Ogilvie said. Just last year, the MTC's strict regulations meant that drivers had to fight to use Square, the mobile credit card reader invented by St. Louis native Jack Dorsey.

"What we're doing now is not getting the job done."

The Metropolitan Taxicab Commission meets Thursday and could vote to approve new rules for Uber's premium sedan service.

Follow Lindsay Toler on Twitter at @StLouisLindsay. E-mail the author at

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