Does this sound familiar?
You're all glammed up, ready to hit the town on a weekend night, and you check your phone to book a ride. You click the Uber app to find a disappointing disclaimer: "There are no cars available at the moment." You hope things will be different at the end of the night, when you'll be in no state to drive yourself. But the Uber app falls through again: "No black cars available."
Uber Black technically launched in St. Louis October 9, but several Uber enthusiasts say they still haven't been able to catch a ride with the new, app-based service.
On Reddit, one downtown St. Louis resident called the lack of cars "a disgrace."— Jon Wheatley (@jon) October 26, 2014
"What the hell is wrong with people in this area that they can't adopt this kind of thing easily?" the Redditor asks. "I'm quickly getting more and more frustrated with St. Louis."
The problem, Uber says, is with its limited supply, something the San Francisco-based company can't control.
"There are only so many black cars licensed by [the Metropolitan Taxicab Commission] in St. Louis," says Uber's St. Louis manager Sagar Shah, referring to the authority that oversees liveries in St. Louis city and county. "There is a limit, and the MTC controls how many cars they are willing and able to license."
There are 119 black cars licensed to service all of St. Louis city and county, according to MTC executive director Ron Klein. The MTC will vote next month to add 26 more permits for black cars, and Klein says he's open to adding more if Uber can prove there's a demand.
"We're very flexible," Klein tells Daily RFT. "We just didn't want to go out there and say, 'Let's add 100 [permits for black cars],' and then have 75 guys standing around."
Klein adds that the delay may come because the MTC quickly approved Uber's application for a third-party dispatch license after months of deliberations.
"It's a new entry, so it's going to take a little time to get them up to speed," Klein says.
Here in St. Louis, Uber works as a middleman between riders (like you) and livery companies that operate black cars, an upscale version of a taxi. Uber's app connects riders and providers, but Uber doesn't actually hire any drivers or put their own cars on the road.
"When you're looking at a Friday and Saturday night and demand is really high, a lot of those cars are already occupied," Sagar tells Daily RFT. "Especially during peak hours, it's going to be more difficult to get a ride."
When black-car drivers aren't looking for Uber customers, they're typically busy picking up clients at the airport, shuttling weddings or driving for business trips. But last weekend, Uber had a record number of black car drivers open for Uber rides, Sagar says.
"It's a partnership," Sagar says. "At the end of the day, it's up to the driver and the company to decide how many hours they decide to log on."
Sagar says introducing UberX, which operates more like Lyft with a rideshare model, could ease the strain on Uber Black, but that doesn't look likely to happen anytime soon.