New York City Caps Uber and Lyft Vehicles in a Crackdown

New York became the first major American city on Wednesday to halt new vehicle licenses for ride-hail services, dealing a significant setback to Uber in its largest market in the United States.

The legislation passed overwhelmingly by the City Council will cap the number of for-hire vehicles for a year while the city studies the booming industry. The bills also allow New York to set a minimum pay rate for drivers.

Uber has become one of Silicon Valley’s biggest success stories and changed the way people across the globe get around. But it has faced increased scrutiny from government regulators and struggled to overcome its image as a company determined to grow at all costs with little regard for its impact on cities.

New York’s move to restrict the number of ride-hail vehicles and to establish pay rules for drivers — another step no other major city has taken — could provide a model for other governments that want to rein in the industry. New York’s aggressive stance also raises questions over how fast Uber can continue to grow as the company, which has been valued at $62 billion, plans to move toward an initial public offering next year.

The proposal to cap ride-hail companies led to a clash among interest groups with taxi industry officials saying the companies were dooming their business and Uber mounting a major advertising campaign to make the case that yellow cabs have a history of discriminating against people of color.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Corey Johnson, the City Council speaker, said the bills will curtail the worsening traffic on the streets and improve low driver wages.

“We are pausing the issuance of new licenses in an industry that has been allowed to proliferate without any appropriate check or regulation,” Mr. Johnson said before the vote, adding that the rules would not diminish existing service for New Yorkers who rely on ride-hail apps.

Mr. de Blasio praised the bills and said he planned to sign them into law. The cap on new for-hire vehicles would take effect immediately.

“More than 100,000 workers and their families will see an immediate benefit from this legislation,” Mr. de Blasio said, referring to the city’s army of for-hire drivers. “And this action will stop the influx of cars contributing to the congestion grinding our streets to a halt.”

But Uber has warned its riders that the cap could produce higher prices and longer wait times for passengers if the company cannot keep up with the growing demand. Ride-hail apps have become a crucial backup option for New Yorkers swept up in the constant delays on the city’s sputtering subway, as happened on Wednesday when signal problems again snarled train lines across a large swath of the city. Ride-hail services have also grown in neighborhoods outside Manhattan where the subway does not reach.

The battle over Uber’s future in New York has been prompted in part by growing concerns over financial turmoil among drivers — a problem underscored by six driver suicides in recent months. On Wednesday, a large group of drivers rallied outside City Hall before the vote and held signs displaying the names of the drivers who took their lives.

New York is the latest city to grapple with questions over how to regulate the company. In London, Uber’s most lucrative European market, Uber recently regained its taxi license after the company agreed to stricter regulations, including providing the city with the trove of traffic data that the firm collects and has often been reluctant to share. Uber has also faced regulatory battles in American cities, like Austin, Tex., and in countries like Canada, Brazil and Italy.

In Seattle, the City Council approved a bill allowing Uber drivers to form unions, but the measure has faced a legal challenge. Uber left Austin in 2016 after the City Council passed a measure requiring the company to perform fingerprint background checks, though Uber later returned to the city. The mayor of Honolulu recently vetoed a bill to cap price increases by Uber during busy periods.

Photo: Rick Loomis for The New York Times

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