D.C. taxicabs have long been criticized for failing to serve low-income neighborhoods, particularly east-of-the-river neighborhoods in wards 7 and 8. But today, D.C. Taxicab Commission Chair Ron Linton says the commission  has a plan to put independently operated vans in these underserved areas.

The vans would take people anywhere from two to 20 blocks for a fixed rate of $5 or $6, with specific boundaries dictating where they could operate. The idea is that these vans would be used to take people—-multiple people at once—-to the nearby grocery store or a friend’s house in places where it’s nearly impossible to hail a cab. In addition to east-of-the-river neighborhoods, the vans may also operate in parts of wards 5 and 6 and even around upper 16th Street NW, where there are service gaps.

Linton says he expects low-income seniors to account for a large portion of the vans’ customers.

The commission is still studying the boundaries and feasibility of the plan, which isn’t definite. He hopes the mayor can officially announce the van service this November, with a launch date sometime next summer.

Linton said at a press conference today that during his tenure as chair of the cab commission, one of the “most perplexing matters has been that we have four to five distinct areas in the city where the people who live in those areas are underserved by public vehicles for hire.”

Just like standard cab drivers, drivers of these vans would own their vehicles and meet the same requirements needed to be a standard cab driver. Linton says the city would work with the potential drivers to obtain loans to purchase the vans. The vans, however, would not have meters, which means they could only operate in their designated areas for flat rates.

It’s unclear how profitable this venture will be for the drivers, but Linton says  he expects most of the drivers would be people who are not currently cab drivers but live in the neighborhoods these vans are intended to serve.

People would be able to hail the vans on the street or call to be picked up.

Cab drivers in attendances at the press conference today, however, thought the vans would be an unnecessary service that would lead to more unregistered cabs, since it would make it harder for current cab drivers to make a living.

“They are trying to push cabs out of business,” says Massoud Medghalchi, a representative of the Dominion of DC Professional Taxicab Drivers Association. “They’re lying, we will go anywhere if there is a call. If a driver can make enough business, they will go there.”

At today’s press conference, Linton also announced additional new services the commission plans to offer, including:

  • Starting in October, it will take people just five days to obtain a commercial driver’s license, instead of the current 60 to 90 days it takes to process an application.
  • The commission will implement a new text system in November that will allow cabs to be alerted when area venues and business are in need of a large volume of vehicles at once.
  • Safety devices for both drivers and passengers to alert authorities of an emergency are slated to be installed by June 2015

Photo by Darrow Montgomery