Remember back when Lyft tried to launch in St. Louis?
Cars wearing pink mustaches burst forth from Cherokee Street to offer rides to the taxicab-averse at the touch of a smartphone -- until police started pulling over any car with furry facial hair for not having a taxi license.
Months passed, and now St. Louis is faced with the very real possibility that Uber, Lyft's better-known rival, could launch here next week. Uber is being coy about a firm launch date, but if the Metropolitan Taxicab Commission approves its application on October 7, as it plans to do, Uber could start offering rides that day.
But the service Uber is starting here, called Uber BLACK, doesn't resemble the peer-to-peer ridesharing Lyft touted, where drivers could use their own cars to give clients who order via the app a low-cost ride. Instead, Uber is offering a premium sedan service, which is app-based but is not peer-to-peer. (Or cheap.)
Here's how it works: Uber applied Friday for a third-party dispatch license, which allows it to match riders with licensed drivers and high-quality, premium sedans already operating in St. Louis.
"It's essentially a limo, it's our more sophisticated product," says Sagar Shah, Uber's general manager for St. Louis.
If Uber's application is approved (which it almost certainly will be), Uber will serve as a liaison between BLACK car drivers and riders. That means the company isn't hiring drivers, Shah says.
But Uber has its own Lyft-like product, called UberX. Whereas UberX is carpooling, Uber BLACK is a private car. An UberX driver may offer you a snack and a smile, but Uber BLACK drivers offer "a sophisticated, high level of service," Shah tells Daily RFT.
So when will UberX, the peer-to-peer ridesharing service, come to St. Louis? Not soon.
"There's no such thing as an application for UberX right now," Shah says.
Lyft is battling in court for the right to operate a peer-to-peer rideshare app in St. Louis, and Uber says it's very interesting in bringing the service to St. Louis.
It took months for the MTC to update rules just to allow a digital, third-party company to dispatch BLACK cars to app users. If Uber wants to bring peer-to-peer ridesharing here, the MTC and Uber will have to start "another process altogether," Shah says.