Washington, D.C., is trying to plug a transportation gap for neighborhoods that are underserved by taxis — with a grant-funded van shuttle. A new pilot program, designed to make up for a dearth of cab service, operates like a small bus system. Eight-seat vans run along fixed routes in Wards 4, 7 and 8 every 40 minutes to an hour. Passengers pay a flat fee by cash or credit card; cost tops out at $5 a ride.
According to WAMU, the concept for the “Neighborhood Ride Service by Taxis” (NRS) was initially floated in 2014 by officials at the D.C. Taxicab Commission, now the Department of For-Hire Vehicles, as a way to provide transportation to the outer wards where it can be hard to hail a taxi.
Drivers say they tend to circulate in more central areas like downtown or Capitol Hill because that is where they earn the most money, but some residents of outer wards say drivers avoid pickups and drop-offs in their neighborhoods because of stereotypes that their streets are more dangerous. D.C. has Uber and other ride-hailing apps, but those private services are only available to people with smartphones, and officials say a number of communities, predominantly African-American neighborhoods, still remain underserved.
WAMU points out that between August 14 and September 13, taxis did 1,443,669 pickups in downtown and the National Mall, while in Ward 7 and Ward 8, taxis only did 11,970 pickups. Taxi drivers say there are simply more passengers to be picked up in downtown areas, and that they are not discriminating against black residents by avoiding their neighborhoods.
The Department of For-Hire Vehicles is asking for feedback before making the service permanent. As some residents have already pointed out, the NRS overlaps with existing bus services. The service is also more expensive than the bus, which costs $1.75 for regular routes and $4 for express routes.
Here are the three routes:
Kelsey E. Thomas is Next City’s associate editor.