Page 2 of 5
Cab companies also take a share when passengers pay with credit cards. The fee covers charge fees and defrays the cost of charge disputes, which can be expensive and a common occurrence when customers sober up and don't remember taking a cab.
After subtracting gas costs and maintenance, drivers say, they're lucky to clear about $40 most days.
The lawsuit, filed by St. Louis attorney Mark Goodman, seeks an injunction to stop the city from enforcing the ordinance, instituted in 2000. It claims that allowing driver-owned companies to obtain permits or reallocating permits currently owned by other companies would benefit customers, the city and drivers by increasing competition.
"The problem is that the [companies are] worried they're going to lose these drivers that are working as slaves," Mixicha tells The Pitch. "That's where the conflict is coming."
More drivers wander over to vent as Mixicha talks about the lawsuit. They cut each other off and talk over one another with their own complaints. Mixicha quiets everyone and says the ideal outcome for the drivers is a co-op that would allow them to compete with the bigger companies.
Last October, the drivers took their concerns to the City Council. However, city leaders weren't interested in changing the regulation.
In a letter dated November 3, 2011, council members Melba Curls, then chair of the council's Taxicab Sub-Committee, and Dick Davis, then vice chair of the Transportation Sub-Committee, dismissed the drivers' concerns.
"We have reached the conclusion that the existing system of regulating taxi permits functions well for the City, the industry and the taxi cab operators and its users," they wrote. "We do not feel there is a need to make any substantial changes at this time, as we would like to let the market decide issues such as these."
The lawsuit hasn't changed the city's position. In a response to the lawsuit, city attorneys deny the drivers' claims that the ordinance violates the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the U.S. Constitution.
David Park, director of the Department of Neighborhood and Community Services, which oversees taxi permits, says the quality of cabs was low prior to the city's permitting system. And there were safety and cleanliness issues.
"Nobody could really make a profit because there were so many cabs," Park tells The Pitch. "When they capped this, the idea was to let that drive the quality and professionalism of the cab.
"The cab companies themselves have stepped up and been very aggressive in taking charge and taking control of those complaints and making sure they're resolved in a positive way," Park says.
Park says not a single permit from a cab company has been revoked due to ordinance violations in his five years on the job. He adds that he has received just one official complaint from a customer in that time.
He argues that giving out permits to individual drivers wouldn't ease the cabbies' problems: "Part of their own lawsuit says they, at times, wait for up to 17 hours at the airport. So double the number of people, does that mean you have to wait a day and a half to get a fare?"
Mixicha and the drivers association counter that even if more cabbies flooded the market, they wouldn't have to pay the overhead of weekly lease fees. For instance, by not paying the commonly charged fee of $260, they would save $13,520 each year.