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Seattle mayor wants to scrap driver limits on ridesharing services

By Jimmy Lovaas

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Seattle Mayor Ed Murray on Monday proposed the city remove its cap on the number of ridesharing company drivers and make concessions to traditional taxi and car hire companies, in a bid to appease warring factions hungry for fares.

The Seattle City Council in March unanimously voted to limit ridesharing services such as UberX, Lyft, and Sidecar operating in the Pacific Northwest city of about 630,000 people to 150 drivers on the road at any time.

Murray's plan, which still needs council approval, itself far from guaranteed, would remove the driver limits on an industry that has emerged in scores of cities to compete with traditional taxis.

The proposal would also extend hailing rights to for-hire drivers for the first time, provide 200 new taxi licenses over four years, relax certain regulations, and require rideshare drivers to be licensed and insured in a manner similar to taxi drivers, Murray said.

"We are recognizing that a technology exists that is rapidly changing the marketplace," Murray told a news conference on Monday. 

The ridesharing services, which allow the public to hail rides through a smartphone app from drivers using personal vehicles, have campaigned for a public referendum that would repeal the limits.

Murray, who had assembled taxi owners, dispatchers, for-hire owners, and ridesharing firms for a series of meetings aimed at balancing competing interests, said the referendum would be moot if Monday's proposal was adopted.

Opposition to UberX, Lyft, and others has risen among local officials in U.S. cities, who have cited insurance coverage, among other concerns, as well as among traditional cab operators, over licensing, safety and other requirements.

Taxi drivers deliberately snarled traffic in Paris, London, and other European capitals this month in protests against Uber.

Lyft, which lets customers to book rides from a network of screened drivers and Sidecar, which offers a similar peer-based service, said the plan was a "first step" in ensuring ridesharing in Seattle, to boost convenience and affordability.

Murray's plan would "devastate the taxicab industry in Seattle", said Chris Vandyk, a manager at a Seattle taxi service which has sued the city in a bid to limit rideshare drivers.

(Reporting by Jimmy Lovaas in Seattle; Writing by Eric M. Johnson; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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