If you can’t hail an Uber, at least you can call a...Goober?
Some St. Louisans, fed up with a local regulatory board for not allowing ride-sharing services to set up shop in the Missouri municipality, have created a satirical application meant to call St. Louis out for what the app developers frame as backwardness.
Goober works like this: You give it your phone number and location. A screen imitating an Uber wait screen appears. “Goober” cars circle your location and you start to receive texts from a driver who can’t seem to find you.
“Aw man. Can’t pick you up. Car dead. Because Dave McNutt just head-butted my car and now he’s chewing on the battery cables. Send help,” read one text, referring to a member of the Metropolitan Taxicab Commission. The commission is responsible for enforcing taxi codes in the city.
Goober’s shtick is that the driver will never come, co-creator Tyler Kessler told CBS St. Louis.
“They’ll just circle endlessly, which is a metaphor of this whole craziness between the MTC and ridesharing right now,” he said.
The taxicab commission has for months been locked in battle with ride-sharing service Uber, in apparent conflict over what regulations the startup should adopt in order to set up shop locally. St. Louis is the largest metropolitan area in the U.S. that does not allow ride-sharing services, according to Uber.
The commission “appears eager” to alter some regulations to allow Uber into the area, according to the Daily Caller, but the commission's insistence that taxi drivers be fingerprinted – which the commission has said is required by state law – has stood out as a sticky issue that the commission and Uber can’t seem to agree on.
Members of the St. Louis tech startup community are among those who have urged the commission to let Uber in.
"To be the only major city in the United States that doesn't have ride-sharing is like being the only hotel in town that doesn't have WiFi," Square co-founder Jim McKelvey told St. Louis Magazine recently. "Five years ago, you could kind of get away with it. These days, you can't."
Kessler, co-founder of Invisible Girlfriend, tells Inc. local regulations make it burdensome to launch in St. Louis. Kessler says he is not typically a political activitist, but is "just someone who really wants Uber."
The commission, which per state law includes members who own taxi companies or drive taxis, is not entirely alone in its skepticism about allowing Uber cars on the road.
As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch stated in a recent editorial, supporters of Uber are in some ways right to paint the commission as “protectionist and out of touch with the demands of young, tech-savvy users who want to call a ride on their smartphones and watch the driver navigate on their GPS.”
On the flipside, Uber and other sharing economy companies engage in practices that displace “traditionally secure jobs that provide health benefits and a regular income,” the Post-Dispatch asserts.
“Uber is driving toward a world of part-time, low-paid workers,” reads the editorial.
Uber spokesperson Brooke Anderson writes in an email that St. Louis poses a “very unique situation.”
"You don't typically see an unelected commission that's dominated by a special interest be able to stifle competition. That's what they've been doing for more than a year. It's essentially the fox guarding the hen house,” she wrote.