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Council Lifts Cap on Taxicab Permits in Milwaukee, Allows Lyft and Uber to Operate Legally

Scott Wise

Milwaukee residents and visitors may soon have more options to get around town.

The Common Council on Tuesday lifted a long-standing cap on taxicab permits.

The vote was unanimous, and it allows new companies, such as Lyft and Uber, to expand their businesses here.

Milwaukee capped the number of taxi permits it issued in 1991. Common Council members decided there wasn’t much demand for cab service and they didn’t want to spend a lot of time reviewing operators annually.

Several years ago, aspiring taxi drivers sued. Last November, the Council allowed 100 additional taxicab permits, then lifted the cap altogether on Tuesday.

Ald. Joe Davis says the move also clears the way for new services such as Uber and Lyft to operate legally in the city.

“With an antiquated transportation system as far as our bus system, I think this is a holistic approach to position the city of Milwaukee as an economic driver, a right position here in the state of Wisconsin, to not only attract tourism, but also to attract investment,” Davis says.

Under the new ordinance, Uber and Lyft drivers would be subjected to the same licensing requirements as cab operators. They would also have to submit their vehicles for inspection. Ald. Jim Bohl says he’s concerned the ordinance doesn’t yet clearly define the inspection process.

“These are individuals of the public who don’t know the driver, and are suspecting that based on the fact that they have a license to operate within the city that that vehicle has a reasonable expectation to be safe, that the tread on the tires is going to be sufficient for driving in the snow, that the brakes are sufficient, the brake pads,” Bohl says.

The Department of Public Works will decide how to conduct the inspections. After the council’s vote, some of the taxi drivers who had sued the city, celebrated in Red Arrow Park downtown.  Ismail Harun compared the cap to a monopoly, benefiting only the owners of cab companies.

“It was so exciting to come here this morning, to see us being free from this cartel. I hope they can also be better owners, as we are prepared to provide the best services and quality to Milwaukee,” Harun says.

However, speculation exists that some taxi cab companies may now file their own lawsuit, claiming the city’s decision will wipe out their business investments. The measure now goes to Mayor Tom Barrett. If he signs it, Milwaukee’s cap on taxi permits will expire on Sept. 1.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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