Lyft Comes to St. Louis Fueled by Hipster Love; A Cabbies Response

Since 2005 it has been my pleasure to be a cab driver in my hometown of St. Louis. On a daily basis I get to see all parts of St. Louis City, St. Louis County and often the Metro-East and beyond. While I love my job there are also many challenges. I’ve had to deal with attempted robberies, people throwing up in my cab, urinating in the cab, fighting in the backseat, inappropriate sexual behavior in the backseat, people who jump out and run, passengers who have tried to fight me, and almost anything else you can think of. Still, I love my job.

 

What do I love? I love meeting new people everyday and hearing their stories. There are some passengers I’ve been picking up for years and by now they know my kids names and I know their kids names. There have been passengers I became friends with and others I have counseled through divorces and deaths in the family. When my ex-wife and I divorced I told my passengers even before I told my family. These relationships and the thrill of seeing the look on the faces of my passengers when they see the Arch, Old Courthouse or Central Library for the first time makes all the hard times worth it.  We get them all. One day I picked up former St. Louis Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan and dropped him off at Busch Stadium and my next passenger was a homeless guy out of the New Life Evangelistic Center. The full microcosm of society.

 

What Uber and Lyft Do and How They Damage the Profession

 

Uber and Lyft may sound like a good idea and may sound “progressive”. They probably sound the best to people who know the least about cabs. We can start with the knowledge that St. Louis has a long history of cab companies. Some still operating and many who have went away.  There are many professional cabbies who have been driving for decades. For cabbies to earn a decent living there has to be proper regulation of the industry. Too few cabs and the public isn’t served and too many and drivers can’t make decent money. St. Louis has done a pretty good job at regulating the industry through the Metropolitan Taxi Commision. Not perfect by a longshot; but one of the better regulatory bodies by national standards.

 

Driving a cab in St. Louis is a job that has allowed drivers to buy homes, raise families and send their children to college. Its not a plaything for me. I work 6 or 7 days a week on this job ( usually 10-12 hours a day) and thats the money I use to support my children and pay my bills. While business in the fall, winter and spring is brisk for the most part come summer time business grinds to a hault. Drivers barely make it in the summer time and there is little margin for error. With Uber and Lyft appearing on the scene that margin of error may be wiped away, Drivers may lose their jobs, tuition may not get paid, the lights may go out, the gas may get cut off, evictions can happen, and marriages and relationships may crumble. Its that serious.

 

St. Louis is already a city that has lost so many good-paying blue-collar jobs. America has become a nation of haves and have-nots and St. Louis is no different. Gone are the days when you could walk up and down Broadway or Hall Street and find good-paying jobs with ease to feed your families. Good jobs are scarce in this city for the working-class and driving a cab is one of those good jobs. Lyft and Uber are part of the Walmartization of America. Part-time workers earning fast-food wages diminishing from the profession. These drivers are in a very real sense akin to scab workers and like the companies they drive for represent regression and not progression.

 

There is nothing progressive about lowering earnings for working-class people, Nor is there anything progressive about undercutting labor costs to the point workers are driven into poverty and homelessness. Its a game as old as the laborers in the days of the Bible and as recent as those sweating in the mines of Western and Southern Africa. Play the working-class against one another for the benefit of the wealthy who seek to be served no matter the human cost.

Who Catches Cabs

 

There seems to be a lot of misconceptions about who actually catches cabs. In a city with the “Delmar Divide” where black and white don’t mix as much as we should and the poor and the rich mix even less people tend to not know a lot about each others lives.

 

Most of the people who catch cabs in St. Louis are not hipsters, or yuppies or business people or college students. They’re not out drinking and partying.  No, the biggest bulk of our passengers are the elderly and the working-poor. People who catch cabs to and from work everyday. Those who take cabs from the grocery store or to the doctor’s office. Sunday is Easter and without a doubt I will be taking people to church and to their families homes to celebrate, There are others who we pick up from the emergency rooms of hospitals, rescue from domestic violence taking them to shelters or pick up from the Ronald McDonald house for sick children. No tips and usually not that much money.

 

We can afford to do that because come thursday night we get the college kids from Washington University and St. Louis University and on Friday and Saturday night we are both delivering and picking up those enjoying the nightlife of St, Louis. Thats where we are able to make serious money. Take that away and we lose drivers and losing drivers will hurt the poor and working-class people who need cabs the most. Lyft and Uber are not designed to serve the poor and working-class populations in the St. Louis area. Its an elitist concept for an elite crowd; but rest assured its casualties will be in deep south city, north city and north county.

Problems With St. Louis Cab Service

 

No business or business-model is perfect. People aren’t perfect and from time to time we all may need a little rejuvenation. There are certainly things cab companies and drivers can do to improve the industry. There are also things that have already been done like the “STL Taxi” and “Taxi Magic” apps to order legal cabs in St. Louis.

 

However, allow me to share how customers can be proactive in improving their experience. Since Uber and Lyft are designed to serve the hipster population let me share with you some of the problems hipsters seem to have with catching cabs:

 

-making time-orders and then still coming out late or not coming out at all

-calling from hi-rise apartment buildings and not waiting in the lobby forcing drivers to double-park and block traffic

-calling for a cab from a bar and then just hopping into the first cab you see regardless as to whether its your cab or not

-getting into unlicensed cabs and then complaining you got screwed

 

On the drivers part if you are displeased with any licensed driver or have a complaint you can call the company or the MTC. There are safeguards in place to protect passengers.

Hipsters and a Just Society

 

To call a spade a spade it just is what it is. Lyft and Uber aren’t coming to serve good ole St. Louis hoosiers or North St. Louis. Nope, they are coming by invitation and for the hipster population ( and to a lesser extent business people and college-students). Hence they kicked off at Nebula ( the center of hipster thought in St. Louis),

 

So, now let me use this time to call out hipsters and ask what kind of a society do you want to live in? Do you favor the right-wing economics of the GOP or do you favor a more humane and just society? Hipsters are mostly associated with the left and being progressive; but with a closer look you could very well come to a different conclusion. Of course there are many brilliant and progressive folks in the hipster population who do much good; but still these questions need to be asked.

 

If you’re  supporting the decimation of good working-class jobs you can’t make a very good claim of being progressive. Uber and Lyft are conservative-economic ideas. Over the last several years I’ve heard several young hipsters tell my they’re socially-liberal and economic-conservatives, a popular trend in American politics. Well, I hate to break it to you buddy; but its economics and the role of the state which defines politics. If you’re an economic conservative despite how ironic and sarcastic you may be or how tight your jeans are you my friend are a conservative.

 

However, there is something even worse. If you believe the resources of the state should be used to help the affluent and disenfranchise the poor, which often happens during gentrification, that puts you in a category that conjurs up some very nasty images from the 20th Century.

 

Some will look from the outside and say hipsters succeed because of three things; government aid, racial-solidarity and class-solidarity. If I was a hipster I would be looking to counter that image. I would be looking to hire African-Americans in bars and restaurants opening up in heavily black areas and let it be known those in the neighborhoods will be the first to be hired. Yet, that is not the case. These bars and restaurants open in black neighborhoods with high unemployment rates and the staffs are either all-white or nearly all-white and not from the neighborhood. St. Louis cabbies are mostly minorities; but I am willing to wager most Lyft and Uber drivers won’t be. This is an issue the local NAACP, Black Clergy Coalition and Urban League needs to take up for this reason.

 

There is nothing progressive about moving into black neighborhoods. The term “settler” and “pioneer” are hardly progressive.  St. Louis was a Native American neighborhood when the Europeans arrived and that didn’t turn out to be very progressive. If moving into black neighborhoods made one a progressive surely the likes of Cecil Rhodes, the Belgians employed by King Leopold in the Congo and the Afrikaans of South Africa would be seen as the most progressive people ever. If being a settler and pioneer was such a beautiful thing Israel wouldn’t need to keep over 100,000 troops in the West Bank.  Its what you do when you move in. Do you move in as brothers and sisters or do you move in as conquerors? Do you come to work with the local population or do you come to eradicate the local population?

 

Gentrification fueled by hipsters is in its early stages in St. Louis. You have a choice; do you want to repeat the methods that have brutalized the poor and working-class in cities like New York, DC, and San Francisco or do you want to be true leaders and trailblazers in St. Louis and advocate for a just society? Saying no to Lyft and Uber and yes to good-paying working-class jobs will be a step in the right direction and a show of good faith.

 

The media also has a role. While hipsters may be few in numbers they have a stranglehold over conversations about St. Louis in the media ( particularly in public media). Their side tends to be the only side to get air or ink. So, I ask the local media to be fair and just and cover both sides of this issue.

 

 

Solidarity With Labor and Show-Me 15  and Mayor Slay

 

Lyft and Uber come at a time of great turmoil for the working-class in St. Louis. Republican lawmakers ( who I’m sure would love Lyft as Lyft has hired GOP lobbyists before) are trying to make Missouri a right-to-work state. In other words they’re trying to get rid of unions in Missouri and make our state more equivalent to Mississippi or Arkansas in terms of workers-rights.This was tried in the 1970’s and failed miserably. Those were different times though. That was a Democratic Party committed to the poor and working-class. Many Democratic voters today think being progressive is about watching Stephen Colbert and eating from Whole Foods ( owned by a right-winger btw) and are not concerned with issues like right-to-work. Yet there are many who are fighting on behalf of the people. As St. Louis cabbies we must stand with them because Lyft and Uber come in the same spirit as right-to-work.  We must also support the Show Me 15 campaign organized by fast-food workers in St. Louis. Lyft and Uber want to drive down our earnings and McDonalds and Burger King are seeking to do the same with their workers. Working-class solidarity between professions.


In closing I would like to thank St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay who has been supportive of St. Louis cabbies and the MTC. Today more than ever I am happy I voted for Mayor Slay and worked for his re-election and consider him a friend to cabbies and a great mayor ( now don’t let me down).

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28 thoughts on “Lyft Comes to St. Louis Fueled by Hipster Love; A Cabbies Response

  1. I completely agree with your sentiments about life having become harder for what I think you mean the middle class. It’s true.

    I’m not here to make arguments about politics or bash on hipsters though. I also don’t know which side I’m on. I have a lot of questions for both you and the Lyft’s of the world. Specifically my questions for you regarding how taxi cabs run as a business and how technology fits into our lives.

    So let’s cut to the core of this: how much time do you spend idling around or searching for customers? Why do you have to work 10-12 hours a day 6 days a week to make a living? That doesn’t seem right, both from a how-I’d-like-america-to-be and a business one.

    Say the taxicab commission were wiped today and the general STL public had to use taxicab service unprotected by the regulations you’re talking about. What’s the cost to the public? Both in terms of: things that COULD happen, and have those things happened other places where similar regulation’s been wiped?

    Finally, just from a basic business standpoint: right now, drivers and customers are limited by their line of sight. You could drive right past somebody who needs a ride and not know it, so they don’t get picked up. Lost fare, passenger doesn’t get a ride. What % of a given day do you spend with an empty cab, looking for a passenger?

    So understand when I say this, I’m not talking specifically about Lyft: there’s technology where you can digitally extend your line of sight and much more efficiently find passengers. WHY is this not being EMBRACED? If this decreases wait time, increases “cab-filled-with-passenger” time, you make more money and the public gets better service.

    Here comes Lyft, providing one such outlet for leveraging modern technology but not through the established taxicab services. It adapts to the demands of the public on the fly, where previously regulation would control the supply of taxi drivers.

    But if it really does sidestep necessary insurance and societal safeguards regulation enforces, then the STL taxicab commission embracing and using this technology will STOMP them.

    At the end of the day, driving people from point A to point B is a business. Whoever can serve the public best will get the business. You’re not granted special rights to this domain if someone else can do it better, the same as I don’t deserve any special consideration or treatment if somebody else does my job way better than me. This is the world we live in.

    But I don’t think this is an issue where they’ll do your job better than you by virtue of you having BEEN driving people around for years – you know the best and fastest ways – but why aren’t you growing and adapting through this technology, to improve yourself and the service you offer others?

    And then the hardest question of all: if it really is that Lyft can come in and destroy the STL taxi industry, then is the STL taxi scene really necessary?

  2. Really fantastic argument, and a perspective I had not considered, as a frequent UberX user. It seems that you suggest the expenditures of “hipsters” helps support the less lucrative trips your provide for other riders in the city, outside of weekends and Thursday nights for Wash. U. students. Would you be willing to elaborate on the job security that you are provided by working for the formalized legal taxi system in St. Louis, and why, for you, switching to Lyft or UberX, while willing to pick up those customers other than the ones at Wash U, is not feasible? I ask only because, here in Boston, the heavy corruption and “injustices” that are ingrained in the current taxi system in the city were uncovered with much fanfare recently, by the Globe; to the degree where drivers switching to UberX and Lyft seem to react very favorably to the change, finding their incomes rising and their encounters with unsavory business practices and the necessity of dealing with them removed, thanks to the transparency of the earning mechanisms established by these tech companies.

  3. Very well written piece. While I had kind of liked the “free market” idea of the Uber concept (though haven’t yet used it due to fears of the lack of oversight) – you make some good points in here. I’m torn with the part-time vs full time portion.. I understand the importance of being able to make a full-time living, but don’t think an industry should be propped up by government regulations. I do very much appreciate your points regarding your typical clients being subsidized by your Thurs-Sat night crowds. It’s like taxis are a hybrid mode of private/public transportation, but instead of relying on taxes, it’s kept appropriately funded and protected by the taxi commission standards.

  4. Capitalism stings, doesn’t it? You may be a fine taxi driver, but cab service in St. Louis is some of the worst in any city I have ever been. Many of the problems with customer behavior (by the infamous “hipsters”) are a direct result of horrible service. I, for one, have waited hours for a cab, had scheduled cabs never arrive, and seen cabs I ordered pick up other people up the block. The service that is provided does not engender conscientious behavior by passengers. It also has us wishing and hoping that something will change. The exclusionary taxi system gives us no choice; we cannot take our money elsewhere to demonstrate our dissatisfaction. There are no market forces to ensure good service.

    As a “hipster,” I’m not willing to subsidize a broken transportation industry by artificially constraining supply in the market and excluding market participants that provide a better service. Lyft and Uber, once fully implemented in a city, are cheaper, more reliable, and more convenient than St. Louis Cabs. These companies are coming to St. Louis for one simple reason: they can provide a better service. Now, customers have an alternative to poor service, and this is what makes you and others in the taxi industry nervous.

    It is clear that you see these companies as a threat to your livelihood, but your bigoted, rambling diatribe about how “hipsters” are here to “eradicate the population” is not the answer. I sincerely hope Lyft is here to stay, and that Uber and others move in quickly. I agree that much of the population of our city faces great challenges that we must work hard to overcome. I do not agree that the answer is heavy-handed regulations that allow cab companies to provide sub-par service without consequences.

  5. As a young Nigerian American raised in Chicago, a city that relies heavily on its immigrant population to man its taxi fleet, I agree that Uber and Lyft are doing more harm than good. Everyone has a smartphone now a days, so its easy to see why companies like them are on so well liked by millenials. However, I don’t think that large metro areas like Chicago and St. Louis will have to worry too much about these start ups moving in on their territory, if u will, because not enough people will use them.

    By the way, I loved reading this on HuffPo. Next time I take a cab, I will casually bring up this article. :)

  6. I have lived in St. Louis (twice), Kansas City, Chicago and New York City. St. Louis has BY FAR the worst cab service of any of those cities, and from what I can gather from others, the entire nation. You may be a great cab driver, but you might be the only one in the city. These services and other microbusinesses like AirBnB aren’t going away, they are only going to increase with technology. You might as well figure out a way to get your house straight (St. Louis cabs) and let everyone else do their thing.

  7. “An open organization doesn’t look for information that makes it feel good, that verifies its past and validates its present. It is deliberately looking for information that might threaten its stability, knock it off balance and open it to growth.”

  8. I would like to point out that I think your article was well versed, but i’d also like to point out what I disagree with. You say that a bulk of your clientele aren’t hipsters, business men, or drunk college kids, so how would that upset the balance of your income. You are complaining that the “counter-culture” is ruining the working class, so using lyft and uber would allow you to continue to keep your fares that aren’t “elitists.” I’m glad that you have regulars that you have developed a relationship with over the years. Lyft and Uber are social as well and is for the most part donation based, so it would be similar to giving your friend a ride and reimbursing them for their time and gas. To your comment about only looking to hire African American workers, I feel that is a racist remark. People that are capable of performing the job should be hired, regardless of race. Most of your “hipster” remarks seemed very derogatory as well. I am a person with a tech related background, but that does not make me a hipster. When something disrupts the social norm or innovates a market, all the bureaucrats are afraid of making decisions on the side of progression

  9. This is going to sound harsh, but frankly, it is not my problem as a consumer to care about supporting working-class taxi drivers. Labeling everyone who utilizes these services “hispters” is a tired and convenient diatribe. The reason that people are so excited about options such as Lyft is that we have been extremely disappointed with the service of taxi drivers in this city. Waiting way too long for a taxi to come (if it comes at all) or cabs not accepting electronic payment. What companies like Lyft and Uber offer are assurances that a taxi will be coming and (for Uber) a simple way to pay electronically. The reality is that there are plenty of people who do not currently take taxis who will use Lyft and Uber because of the benefits they offer. By being stuck in the past, your industry is missing out on these new customers.

  10. When the market finds a better solution, the dinosaurs perish. Sorry buddy, but you’re the blockbuster of the transportation industry.

  11. I’m not a hipster. Well, I don’t think I am. I don’t use Uber in NYC. Why? Because catching a cab there is easy. I do use it in SF. Why? Because getting a cab there is FUCKING IMPOSSIBLE. So here’s the question: how hard is it to get a cab in your town? If your cab infrastructure is up to snuff then great, no problem. If it sucks then fix it and Uber can’t compete. Meanwhile, maybe figure out what makes Uber attractive (like getting a message when your cab is 2 minutes out, etc) and do that instead of using a monopoly to block progress. Just a though.

  12. The one time I tried to catch a cab in St. Louis, the company sent the cab out (a half hour late) which I scheduled hours in advance, the driver picked up some other folks as I watched them drive off, and when I called the company back, they told me I was SOL because that was the last cab for the night because the weather was starting to get bad……nevermind myself and my lovely wife were standing outside at the Millenium with our vehicles in suburbia, and our kids with the sitter. Thankfully, we were able to bum a ride from some folks at the same function, who were kind enough to drop us off at the South City home of my in-laws, who drove us back to the county. That was the first and last time I ever tried to get a cab in St. Louis, and I have lived here for 25 years. The cab cartels did it to themselves. If I did a crap job at my white collar job, I would be fired, your blue collar job should be no different. Sorry. the only tears I have over this are the crocodilian kind.

  13. I really did enjoy reading your blog. Unfortunately you might want to look into another job option if you think lyft is going to put you out of business. I’m a St. Louis resident currently on vacation in San Francisco. It’s huge out here and has been in place for a pretty long time. I noticed the pink mustaches last year when I was out here. I didn’t know what it was about until I asked a SF cab driver yesterday (coincidence!) Of course he had lots to say, he even cut off a pink mustache, started yelling and swerving, then gave him a death stare for no reason! He just saw the pink mustache and decided to target it. The Lyft driver ignored the cab driver and continued on. I felt endangered riding with the violent cab driver. You can get upset about progression or accept it and overcome it. I’m not a hipster, but when I see the opportunity to make an extra dollar I take it even if it cuts someone else out. It’s a dog eat dog word out there. As you say in your blog, most hipsters hop in the first cab outside the bar, even if it isn’t theirs. I doubt everyone in the bar will be using lyft, if even 2 out of 30. There will be plenty of business. I’m not trying to be negative or argue, just voicing my opinion. Trust me, when I’m intoxicated leaving the strip club, I’ll be dialing 993-TAXI. Dialing that number will be much easier than messing with a stupid app! Many people will feel the same.

  14. This is not only a problem for St. Louis cabbies. I drive a cab in Tucson Az. and we have the same problem. On top of that problem we also deal with taxi companies who are determined to see the drivers make less and less money. If we do not like that is too bad because Arizona is another right to work state. I am growing so tired of what is happening in this country and I grow even more tired of how no one wants to do anything about it except talk about it. Wake up America and band together before it is too late.

  15. Down Here

    Lots of them live down here, she said.
    Fox Park, Shaw, Tower Grove, on Cherokee.
    Compared to across the river, instead,
    That is “down here.” Don’t you see?

    Far better than boarded-up storefronts.
    But, please, don’t get all uppity.
    We welcome all you transplants.
    Just drop the Wildwood at one-seventy.

    Leave small-town disdain in Granite.
    Leave the puritan in South County.
    Leave decorum demands in Grand Rapids.
    You, Wash U grads, respect the townie.

    Shut your mouth in my hood, Mrs. Grundy.
    Think you’re slumming in Carondelet?
    Drink your tea there on Sunday and Monday.
    The hot-spot-crime-zone is more of a threat.

    Follow the twins; come down here; embrace it.
    Don’t tell me how to think and speak, white bread.
    If you change it too hard you’ll debase it.
    Then where will you buy your street cred?

  16. You could not be more wrong. Cab companies are monopolistic usually filled with cheap foreign labor from a industry that picks and chooses with same tactic you complain about hipster restaurants. There, are few white drivers because of discrimination from taxi companies that hire and want mostly illegal drivers. Companies like Uber just white owned transportation start ups that want to give something cab companies fear the most…competition. I had a consumer have a right to choose and be picked up by a person I can relate with and looks like me without fear of being attacked or killed because I might offend drivers religion.

  17. What your post completely ignores is that cab companies (note that I say “companies”, not drivers) haven’t given a crap about riders or delivering good customer service for decades. This is because they were pretty much the only game in town. They haven’t had to innovate so they didn’t. It’s only after the ride share services like Uber and Lyft came along that cab companies have started to pull their collective heads out of their asses and realize that maybe they need to do something to satisfy their customers. In the interest of full disclosure, I admit, I’m an Uber driver in Denver. It has literally saved my financially while I try to make my startup business successful. I work 7 days a week between the two jobs (in fact, I work 30-40 hours on the weekends alone). I take pride in keeping my car clean. I provide water and snacks (red Starburst candies) to my rides. This is something I’ve never heard of a cabby doing. I take pride in picking up my ride as soon as possible after I accept the ride request. Usually I’m there within 5 minutes, something that rarely happens with a cab. And no, that’s not because of the limited number of cabs on the street. I’ve frequently picked up riders who said they were still on HOLD with a cab company. The last time I tried to call a cab, the dispatcher said it would be a 3 hour wait until a cab could pick me up. Guess what? When your industry has a monopoly and no longer hast to give a crap about its customers and something better comes along, you’re going to lose customers. In fact, you DESERVE to lose customers. I notice you say NOTHING about other car services, such as limousines, etc that cater to a higher end demographic.Are they responsible for the gentrification you go on about? Also, (at least here in Denver) Uber X is not allowed to pick people up from the airport. That’s cabby territory. We also can’t pick up people, including your hated hipsters, flagging down a ride from the street. There have been many times when I had to pass up someone who needed a ride. Maybe instead of blaming Uber and Lyft for your industry’s troubles, maybe you should look at your employer.

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