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St. Louis Willing To Overlook Illegal Courtesy Cars

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ST. LOUIS, MO (KPLR)-- Is the city of St. Louis letting convention organizers break the law? That seems to be what's happening now with the National Baptist Association Convention.

The Baptist group is using a fleet of out-of-state courtesy cars and drivers, even though the St. Louis Taxi Commission never gave them a license.

City taxi drivers pay hundreds of dollars a year in license fees to the city. But they haven't gotten any work this week from the Baptist's convention because the Baptists are using so-called courtesy cars. The courtesy car drivers are accepting cash payments. They're from out of state. They're breaking traffic laws. And most importantly, they're operating illegally since the city taxi commission never gave them permission or a license to operate.

There are dozens of them all over town.  So-called courtesy cars for the National Baptist Convention, with homemade placards in the windows giving convention goers rides to and from the airport, bus terminals and all around town.

City taxi drivers are boiling mad. The city's taxi commission says it never issued any licenses for these courtesy cars to operate. The Convention and Visitors Commission says it agreed to let the Baptists use local church vans to transport people, but only if they're local and only if they don’t accept money.

Almost all of the courtesy vehicles are from out of state. Most are private cars. FOX 2 saw them violating the law by picking up people in the middle of intersections and dropping passengers off in illegal areas.

And FOX 2 saw numerous cases where passengers paid the courtesy van drivers. FOX 2 asked one van driver with Virginia license plates about it. He pocketed the $20 a passenger gave him and drove off.

No one from the city, the Baptist convention or the CVC would talk to FOX 2. The CVC did issue a statement that says, in part: “The CVC has made it clear to local organizers that it does not condone any form of non-licensed, for-hire transportation services.”

Which is little comfort for the cabbies who do pay license fees. But despite all the violations, the city is apparently not willing to argue with the Baptists and the money they brought to town.

Now after FOX 2 started making inquiries, officers from the city taxicab commission arrived at the convention center and started handing out tickets to many of the courtesy car drivers.

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