For months, the ride-sharing services Lyft and Uber, which use smartphone-based apps to connect driver and rider, have been freely operating in Milwaukee.

Common Council members have been working to forge a new public passenger vehicle license ordinance. The city's License Division, after consulting with the city attorney's office, has concluded Lyft and Uber have been operating in violation of existing city ordinances. Yet the Milwaukee Police Department, which enforces licensing matters, has not moved to stop the services.

That may be about to change. Just days after Common Council members voted to place a proposed sweeping ordinance governing the taxicab system on hold, police are signaling they may begin to target Lyft and Uber drivers.

"We've been discussing enforcement options with the city attorney, and expect to engage in some strategic enforcement efforts in the near future," said Lt. Mark Stanmeyer, a Police Department spokesman. He declined further comment.

The two firms call themselves technology firms, not cab companies. The city regards Lyft and Uber as taxi companies that pick up and deliver passengers for a fee. Neither company has disclosed how many drivers they employ, although a representative of the traditional taxi companies in Milwaukee estimated there were 250 to 300 Lyft or Uber drivers operating in the city.

With Summerfest in full swing, there has been speculation Lyft and Uber drivers will be busy as festivalgoers opt for their services to get to and from the festival grounds.

Nick Anderson, a spokesman for Uber, said Thursday the company will stand behind its drivers "and will cover payment of any citations to lessen their financial burden, as we look toward finding ways to improve Milwaukee's transportation ecosystem by broadening options and consumer choice."

Chelsea Wilson, a Lyft spokeswoman, said the company remained committed to working with the city to approve a new ordinance.

"Throughout this process, we also commit to standing strong with drivers and passengers every step of the way, fighting any citations, covering relevant costs, and making policy progress," Wilson wrote in an email.

During this week's council debate, at least two aldermen — Bob Bauman and Jim Bohl — argued that Lyft and Uber were violating city ordinances. Bohl went further, suggesting he might offer a resolution urging the Police Department to enforce city ordinances governing public passenger service.

The proposed ordinance, which will be reconsidered at the Common Council's July 22 meeting, would allow Lyft and Uber to operate and formally lift the cap on taxicab permits in the city. Representatives of both Lyft and Uber lobbied council members to delay voting on the measure. Both Lyft and Uber had concerns about language in the ordinance governing background checks for drivers and vehicle inspections.

©2014 the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel