Sunday, April 20, 2014

Lyft in St. Louis, or "Our Messed-Up Holy Roman Empire of a Cow Town"

I'm sick and tired of all of the shit that the city is putting Lyft through.

For those who don't know, Lyft is like Uber--a crowdsourced ride-share service coordinated by a very sophisticated smartphone app. Anyone with a decent-enough car can sign up to be a driver and make some extra cash, but riders and drivers rate one another on a five-star scale, presumably to keep any would-be axe murderers/ Deliverance wannabes at bay. The rides cost a lot less than taxis do (60% of taxi fares in most cases), and show up a lot more quickly than the "might show up if I feel like it" licensed cabs sent out by rude/idiotic dispatchers on any given weekend.

Unfortunately, Lyft didn't realize how backward and corrupt St. Louis is. The company didn't understand the complexity of the provincialism that consistently holds this town back from moving into the 21st-century. No, in this town, beaks MUST get wet, and there are a WHOLE lot of thirsty birdies out there.

For example, the Metropolitan Taxicab Commission (MTC)--these jokers obviously feel threatened. After all, if they lose their monopoly on for-hire car transportation in this town, how can they keep up the exorbitant fares that we're usually forced to pay? Why would anyone put up with being shit on and laughed at by a dispatcher when a smartphone app can get you from point-A to point-B in a lot less time, for a lot less cash?

Of course, Lyft didn't register with these folks, so they got all pissy. The MTC and St. Louis cops started pulling Lyft cars over and citing their drivers almost immediately. Never mind that these people are just trying to make a little extra cash. Never mind that they're probably shuttling around folks who had some booze, and might otherwise try to drive themselves and hope for the best, putting peoples' lives at risk.

No, the cops don't care about that, because they're in on the hustle. DWIs mean more revenue for the cities that catch the offenders. They mean more attorneys fees defending these citations and hefty settlements. All of this is subsumed under the catch-all reason of "safety"--THAT's why Lyft and Uber are no good--we need the MTC and the cops to protect us from those devilishly unsafe drivers and vehicles...so that we can ride around in the "officially-sanctioned"1995 Crown Vics that smell like cheap aftershave and B.O.

Don't get me wrong--I understand why something like the MTC once served a purpose. Even ten years ago, I would've felt a lot more comfortable with a MTC-vetted and licensed driver than some stranger in a Prius.

But times change. The feedback system is absolutely crucial--it helps riders avoid poorly-rated drivers, and vice-versa. Because the app takes care of this, it's incredibly unlikely that someone who's built up a sterling reputation on either side would one day go nuts and decide to veer into oncoming traffic, or indulge in said Deliverance fantasy.

The worst part about it? These backward institutions don't even know what they're regulating. 

You see, they may think they're regulating "taxicabs." Some of the more enlightened individuals with these agencies may think they have a hand in controlling "car transportation." But what they're really overseeing (and in this instance, limiting) is the movement of people around the city.

And that has real consequences.

For example, if I'm going somewhere where I know I'll have a few cocktails, I'll try my damnedest to either get a ride there, or take public transportation. Unfortunately, I've been burned too many times by the awful, MTC-sanctioned cab companies out there in the past to rely on them to get me or pick me up from anywhere in this city, especially when my personal well-being may be at stake late at night.

Either of these options limit where I can go and spend my money. For example, I don't tend to go to Soulard very often. Not because I don't like the area--I actually think it's pretty cool and have several friends who live around there. But rather because there's no good option for getting there from Clayton. Even if you or a DD ends up driving, the parking is horrendous. A traditional cab simply isn't cost-effective or reliable enough to even consider going that kind of distance.

But with a robust ride-share infrastructure in place? Suddenly, I'm more willing to go to different parts of the city. I might decide to go out and spend money on a night where I'd normally stay in and watch Netflix because the hassle and cost have both been lessened. With a lot of Lyft or Uber cars around, I would have greater peace of mind that I wouldn't end up stranded wherever I went at 1 am (Talk about safety issues! What if I was a young lady? Think about that, MTC...).

In short, these services are breaking down barriers between neighborhoods, and facilitating the free flow of people around town. More area businesses could make A LOT more income from the larger pool of people who would be willing to access their establishments. The city gets a cut of all of that sweet, sweet cash in the form of sales tax.

I guess that's just too forward-thinking for this cow town, though...

It speaks to a larger point--all of the graft, all of the corruption, all of the "we need to examine this" and "there need to be studies done" that--it's all hot, steaming, grade-A quality bullshit. A quick-and-easy shorthand for "we need to figure out how we can keep getting our taste."

I'm sick of it. I'm tired of all of the efforts to modernize this city getting swept to the side in the name of keeping things "the way they've always been." Governments at all levels having to stick their nose in everything to make sure that their self-sustaining inflow of cash, over or under-the-table, keeps pouring in.

Where are all of the good people in local politics these days? Where are the decent people willing to stand up and call these idiots on their idiocy? My guess is we could iron out this Lyft thing by next weekend if it was as simple as writing a new ordinance and letting sane people vote on it.

But which sane people? Aldermen and women who may or may not be on the take? Take it to the citizens, who would likely be buffeted by a P.R. campaign on both sides?

The sad thing is, I can't even do anything like that if I wanted to, since I live in Clayton, and I'm pretty sure you have to be a city resident to propose those kind of changes. Dumb rules made in one of the little fiefdoms of our Holy Roman Empire of a city impact me as a resident of another. No recourse for this citizen.

So I pick up this tiniest of bullhorns to try to rally the few troops I can--YOU, dear readers. This blatant cash-grab by the MTC is another idiotic relic of a bygone era choking this city and its surrounding little kingdoms to death. We need some well-intentioned folks in the city to say "enough is enough!", to make a stand here and get the government out of our lives. To wake these people up to the fact that they lament the boarded-up storefronts downtown in one breath, then take steps to prevent paying customers from making it downtown in the next.


Are you ready to help save St. Louis from itself? Are you ready to stand up and proclaim "enough is enough?"

If so, I'd love to hear from you in the comments, or email me directly at djgelbooks@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading...

-D.J.




1 comment:

  1. Couldn't agree more. I grew up in St. Louis, but now live in Chicago, where these programs are embraced, for great reason. It's super convenient and even more economical. I've personally asked some cab drivers what they think of Uber and they think it's great, another method of obtaining more customers than they might just cruising the streets.

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