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Ehlmann, Elam may put Uber, Lyft issue to county-wide vote

St. Charles County voters may be asked to decide if they want the option of having an Uber or Lyft driver pick them up.

St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann and County Council Chairman Mike Elam [District 3] said voters may decide on a county charter amendment that would establish a regulatory system for Transportation Network Companies [TNCs] like Uber and Lyft.

A charter amendment could be placed on the Aug. 8 ballot if legislation pending in the Missouri General Assembly continues to stall, they said.

TNCs, such as Uber and Lyft, are accessible through a smart phone or web app. Customers call for a ride then are picked up by a certified driver. TNC drivers provide transportation in their own non-commercial vehicles.

Sen. Bob Onder [R-District 2] sponsored Senate Bill 185 and handles a companion bill, House Bill 130 that would exempt TNCs from statutes related to regional taxicab districts. The bill was filibustered when it went to the senate floor.

Ehlmann said TNCs are important transportation options for county residents and employees and while legislation allowing them to operate has been introduced, it not been enacted over the last three years.

While legislation has yet to come to a vote in the Missouri Senate, it remains preferable that the state regulate an industry that constantly crosses city and county boundaries,” Ehlmann said in a news release on April 6.

The county could ask the council to consider a charter amendment with language nearly identical to Onder’s bill. It would limit how much a TNC could be regulated by the county in unincorporated areas. Elam introduced the bill at the council’s April 10 meeting.

Elam asked the council to table the bill after a first reading until the General Assembly adjourns in May. If a bill without Onder’s language is not passed, then county voters might be given the chance to decide if they want TNCs.

“This bill was patterned after the bill that is currently working its way through the legislature,” Elam told councilmembers. “Hopefully by doing a show of support there and we can get the bill through there it will be statewide and ready to go.”

Ehlmann also told councilmen that they have until the end of May to pass a bill placing the issue on the August ballot. Giving the bill a reading now and allowing questions to be answered may speed up the council’s approval if the bill isn’t acted upon until the end of the legislative session, he said.

The six other councilmen asked to be included as co-sponsors. Councilmember Joe Cronin [District 1] added that the county’s bill should require drivers to have insurance to cover people being transported.

TNCs are not restricted in unincorporated St. Charles County or in any other county municipality, except the city of St. Charles, where they are prohibited. Uber currently operates in Missouri only in St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield and Columbia, and operated in Jefferson City for the governor’s inauguration. Uber is not operating in St. Charles County and someone desiring to hail an Uber ride anywhere in the county will not be serviced.

Business community members do not understand why when someone flies here for a meeting they can take a TNC from St. Louis Lambert International Airport to St. Charles County but a TNC now will not return them to the airport, Elam said.

If we have some uniformity in regulation among municipalities and the county, TNCs are more likely to serve our residents,” Elam said. “The TNC should not have to check city limits before they accept a fare.”

House Bill 130 would make the Missouri Department of Revenue the sole regulatory body, which may develop rules to administer the statute.

As long as individual cities and counties are able to regulate such services as they do taxi cabs, those regulations, while ostensibly to protect the public safety, actually protect existing taxi cab companies from competition,” Ehlmann said.

Under current state legislation pending, TNCs must disclose the fare or fare structure on its website or digital network, provide riders the applicable rates being charged and the option to receive an estimated fare. The TNC’s digital network must display a picture of the TNC driver, the license plate number of the vehicle and a detailed electronic receipt to the rider.

TNCs also must adopt a zero tolerance policy toward drivers using intoxicating substances, enforce driver eligibility requirements, including background checks and registration, adopt nondiscrimination policies with respect to riders and maintain individual trip records of riders and drivers.

In January, Ehlmann came out in support of TNC legislation saying TNCs represent exciting new transportation options for county residents, who asked for them. He and Elam said then that the county may take steps locally if legislation at the state level does not pass.

In January, Ehlmann came out in support of TNC legislation saying TNCs represent exciting new transportation options for county residents, who asked for them. He and Elam said then that the county may take steps locally if legislation at the state level does not pass.

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