Thoughts on St. Louis Uber Launch

Uber launched in St. Louis today.My thoughts? They’ll help the areas that are young, white and wealthy and those areas that are currently being slowly reclaimed by European-Americans. Campuses as well. Everyone else will get worse service in the long run. However, if you’re in Walnut Park trying to get to work at the Popeyes in Jennings stopping at the daycare on the way no one in this debate gives a shit about you anyways. If you don’t have a debit card and smart phone the best advice I think hipsters have for you is to jump off a bridge after donating all your old clothing to a vintage resale shop. Also, be sure to check the organ donation box and if you have long hair donate it for weave.

What is my prediction? In order to fight Uber you’ll have to be very astute from a political and business standpoint. Laclede Cab is neither. They’ve been able to win until now because of a great lawyer and being skillful in local politics. There are so many flaws in the business-model of Laclede Cab, not to mention their appalling treatment of workers, that they won’t be able to succeed in the future. My prediction is they’ll sell to St. Louis County-Yellow Cab after they sell their lot for millions which is now prime real-estate. County-Yellow, United and the airport cabs will then become the sole alternative to Uber and other ride share companies in St. Louis.

The fundamental facts don’t change. Driving a cab was once a union job with good wages and benefits. Both cab companies and ride-share companies conspire to drive down wages and eliminate benefits. This is part of an overall war on working people in America. Organizing is needed to improve the conditioning of drivers whether they be working for traditional cab companies or ride-share.

St. Louis Cabbies: Frontlines of the American Dream

Over the last few days as the discussion over Uber and Lyft in St. Louis has raged on there has been one aspect of the conversation that has troubled me more than any other. What is that you may ask? Is it the Ayn Rand economics? The elitism? The anti working-class bias? The illegality? Sure, all of those things bother me; but more than anything I am bothered by the outright attacks on the character and nature of cab drivers. Instead of me writing a piece examining the veiled racism  and outright classism prevalent in these attacks allow me to tell you who St. Louis cabbies are.

First off allow me to paint a picture of St. Louis cabbies by dividing them into three categories; downtown drivers, airport drivers and fleet drivers.

The downtown drivers you will see in the day parked outside of hotels, America’s Center, the Gateway Station, the Lumiere Casino and other places are what is referred to as “dummy cab drivers”. Dummy doesn’t refer to the intelligence of the driver it refers to the fact the cabs are not computer or radio dispatched. At night you will see these drivers pickup up flaggers outside of nightlife hot-spots like Washington Ave, Laclede’s Landing, Ballpark Village, Soulard, The Grove and the Central West End to a lesser extent.

Most dummy cab drivers are immigrant drivers. Of course that’s not a bad thing. Unless you’re a Native American all of our ancestors came from somewhere else. America is a nation of immigrants and in many respects cab driving is a profession dominated by immigrants.

The dummy drivers downtown mostly come from Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iraq and to a lesser extent South Asia.

In 1990 Somali President Mohamed Siad Barre was deposed from power by a coalition of clan-based militias.  What ensued was chaos and violence that led to a man-made famine. Around 1992 and 1993 refugees began arriving to St. Louis from Somalia. Initially most were settled in apartments  on Hickory Street between South Jefferson and Ohio. In recent years we have seen a waive of refugees from Somalia from the oppressed Bantu ethnic group.

In both cases Somalis in St. Louis have gravitated towards becoming cabbies. The earnings from driving cabs has allowed drivers to move from Hickory Street, buy homes and provide lives for their families they couldn’t have dreamed of in Somalia.

Ethiopians and Eritreans began immigrating to St. Louis in the 1980’s around the time of another man-made famine and brutal war between the two nations.  Like the Somalis, Ethiopians and Eritreans have spread out from their initial enclave in near south city and have become homeowners, their children are going to college, they have opened churches, pray in local mosques and can now be found all over the St. Louis metropolitan region.

Iraqi refugees, Shia from the South and Kurds from the north, began arriving to St. Louis after the first Gulf War and settled in south city.  Kurds faced genocide in Iraq and the Shia faced brutal repression under President Saddam Hussein. Later, after the Second Gulf War and American-led invasion St. Louis received more refugees fleeing the chaos and carnage resulting in the invasion and subsequent civil-war.  Many of these drivers started in cabs and ended up owning businesses. Some still drive.

The airport drivers also contain a lot of East Africans. However, there are also a number of Russians and drivers from the former Soviet Union at the airport. These drivers fled the poverty and chaos that ensued after the end of the Soviet Union. In St. Louis they’ve made good lives for their families driving cabs. Many have settled in the University City-Olivette area.

Not only do all of these immigrant drivers contribute to the fabric of St. Louis life and add flavor to a city that can sometimes be bland; but their earnings also feed many hungry mouths back home during times of hardship.

The third category of drivers are fleet drivers like me. We drive for the large cab companies that are computer-dispatched and cover the entire metropolitan area. Laclede Cab, County-Yellow Cab, Checker-ABC Cab and the Car Service based in West County. While there are many Nigerians and other immigrants driving for fleets the majority of drivers are not immigrants.

The non-immigrant St. Louis drivers are good for the fleet-services because unlike downtown drivers and airport drivers you have to be willing to work the entire metro area and know the area very well. It takes a greater level of knowledge and this knowledge may take some time to acquire.

There is a large percentage of African-Americans among fleet-drivers and there is also a significant number of white American drivers. Its a diverse profession. A profession which attracts unique individuals from a variety of backgrounds. In other words as cabbies we serve all of the St. Louis area and we look like the St. Louis area. We don’t just live and work in a handful of trendy neighborhoods. You can find us working and living in all parts of the St. Louis area.

Driving a cab in St. Louis is a tradition. My grandfather drove a cab in the 1950’s while living in north St. Louis. Unfortunately, it is also a profession which many have given their lives for over the years. This includes a driver I knew being robbed and murdered the same day my daughter was born five years ago.

Are there bad apples in every barrel? Of course there is and that’s why we have the Metropolitan Taxicab Commission and supervisors and management at companies. Serious men and women for a serious job. Why would you choose non-regulated unlicensed drivers working for a Walmartization service over these dedicated men and women?























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).