Last year, the Missouri Legislature bowed to demands by ride-hailing giants Uber and Lyft and passed a law keeping their St. Louis drivers out from under the regulation of the St. Louis Metropolitan Taxicab Commission. The commission regulates traditional cab companies, but local ride-hailing drivers plying the same streets answer only to the new state law.
We opposed the legislative move at the time because it set up a two-tiered system that left local regulators unable to do their jobs. The commission's job is to protect the safety and welfare of paying customers, regardless of the for-hire service they use. As we noted at the time, the state essentially said, "Let the buyer beware." Boy, were we right.
The Taxicab Commission this week announced it is banning taxi drivers from livestreaming their passengers — a responsible move, following national outrage at the revelation of a St. Louis ride-hailing driver who was doing just that. The problem, however, is that the driver — and the entire ride-hailing culture where most of the livestreaming is happening — isn't affected by the commission's ban.
Uber and Lyft, appallingly, still haven't instituted bans of their own on such egregious conduct. Missouri should do it for them.
The Post-Dispatch broke the story in July of Florissant ride-hailing driver Jason Gargac, who routinely captured video of his Uber and Lyft passengers in vulnerable moments and put it online for the entertainment of paying viewers. The story revealed a cottage industry of such predatory voyeurism among ride-hailing drivers.
Uber and Lyft, facing national pressure, both fired the driver. But as the Post-Dispatch's Erin Heffernan reported Wednesday, neither company has instituted a policy banning other drivers from surreptitiously recording passengers. Instead, they say, they defer to local regulation.
Since local regulators in Missouri aren't allowed to oversee Uber or Lyft, only state law controls the drivers. And what does state law say about secretly recording imagery of someone without that person's permission? As followers of ex-Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens' saga know, Missouri is a "one-party consent" state, meaning you can legally record conversations you're part of without telling anyone else involved.
It was Greitens who signed the law that prevents St. Louis from regulating ride-hailing companies. It was an interesting reversal of principle for a Republican governor and legislators who were always touting the benefits of local control — except, apparently, when two big companies don't want it.
Since those two big companies have now made it clear they don't care if their Missouri drivers are abusing their Missouri customers — and since local regulators aren't allowed to do anything about it — the Legislature should clean up the mess it helped create. Legislators should consider an amendment to the state law governing ride-hailing companies and specifically outlaw livestreaming abuse of passengers.
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