CarGO, city dispute goes in more cooperative direction

Friday, July 20, 2018

When it comes to the city's dispute with carGO, things ended up where they should have begun: with the business and the city working together to find solutions that make sense.

For those who haven't followed the situation, carGO is a locally based ride-share business, whose business model relies heavily on personal delivery of food from restaurants and, more recently, but less importantly: alcoholic products.

The local business is expanding into other markets, including Poplar Bluff, Farmington and Carbondale, Illinois. But it got its start here in Cape Girardeau with big investments into the technology that makes it all work. It's an app-based business. It's innovative.

Several months ago, carGO wanted to expand its services to alcohol delivery. Before launching, the business hired attorneys to research state laws governing the delivery of alcohol. CarGO contracts with retailers that build carGO's fees into the cost at the time of transaction; customers don't actually buy anything from carGO. CarGO simply takes the product from store to customer. It allows restaurants and other businesses to essentially provide a delivery service without having to hire drivers themselves.

CarGO's attorneys concluded that no alcohol license was needed, because at no point is the company selling. Still, carGO instituted policy and training for their drivers, so that their training is as rigorous as those who are serving alcohol in bars. They are trained to spot fake IDs, for instance. And part of carGO's operating procedures includes the driver taking a photo of the customer's driver's license which is attached electronically to the receipt. This type of training and technology took considerable resources to develop. CarGO began marketing this service, and the city reached out to carGO and said they required a license.

This is where communications broke down. CarGO insisted it was not required to obtain a license, but rather than stall its line of service, agreed to pay for a license. There are multiple types of liquor licenses in Cape Girardeau; carGO did not fit the mold of any of them, but eventually agreed to pay the most expensive one, a wholesale license at the cost of $750.

CarGO believes it was going above and beyond what it was required to do, and continued operating even without a license while it was going through the licensing process with the city, which had a few delays. But that's not how the city interpreted it.

By agreeing to the license, the city, particularly the police department and chief Wes Blair, believed the business was thumbing its nose at the process and the law. The city effectively set up a sting operation, and cited carGO for delivering alcohol without a license.

CarGO dug in its heals and when called into court, filed a motion to dismiss. CarGO took its situation to the Southeast Missourian.

At a recent city council meeting it was announced that the city would drop the issue with carGO, and work with the business to craft new ordinances that make sense for this type of company.

Indeed, there should be some regulation. Clearly, there is a chance for abuse as it relates to underage drinking, so standards and oversight should be established. CarGO recognized that, and self-imposed policy, training and procedures. CarGO representatives have said they wanted to work with the city from the beginning, but efforts to do so were not accepted or embraced.

In the end, that is what is happening. The city council was right to suggest that the charges be dropped. It's unfortunate that these matters reached the courts, which was unnecessary. Mayor Bob Fox said mistakes were made on both sides, which is probably true.

The city, particularly the police, have a responsibility to respectively pass and enforce ordinances. But it's important for common sense to prevail when businesses don't fit the mold of the ordinances that are in place.

We're pleased that the citation was dropped, and we are encouraged to see that a more cooperative direction has been set.

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