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Seattle Moves To Curb Uber, Other Ride-Share Services

Uber, Lyft, and similar companies that pair people who pay for a car ride with drivers who operate outside the traditional taxi system are facing new limits in Seattle, where the City Council's Taxi Committee recently voted to cap the number of "ride-share" drivers.

The full council had been scheduled to vote on a limit of 150 drivers per ride-share company today; the vote, which has sparked intense interest in the city, has been postponed until next Monday.

Taxi companies have been vocal opponents of the web-based services, which they say have an unfair advantage because they play by different rules. Observers say Seattle's plan to place limits on Uber and similar services could spark new caps and regulations in other U.S. cities.

Uber currently operates in 37 U.S. cities, according to its website; it's also active in more than 30 countries. The company's Seattle outpost has defended itself, especially its lower-cost UberX service, saying that it's providing jobs.

"Right now, we partner with 900 small businesses just on the UberX system," Uber Seattle GM Brooke Steger recently told local KIRO Radio. "These are live, active drivers, so that doesn't include people who are in the pipeline or that have stopped driving."

In deciding to limit the number of drivers, Seattle's council members also voted to add 200 more taxi licenses over the next two years, as the Puget Sound Business Journal reported last month.

Steger tells KIRO that those limits would change how the company and its drivers work, particularly at peak travel times. Right now, drivers are able to log into the system and work whenever they chose, allowing them to take breaks for meals, she says. That could change under a cap system.

"We see well over 150 drivers active on the system at any given time," she says, "especially on a Friday or Saturday night, when a lot of people are drinking and a lot of people want to get home safely."

In the past year, taxi drivers have organized protests against the ride-share services in several U.S. cities. To draw attention to their claims, they circled City Hall in Los Angeles last summer; in Denver, more than 100 drivers recently clogged the street around the Colorado Statehouse.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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