DC Taxicab: “A rabbi in Iraq”

A couple of weeks ago, I needed to get to work earlier than usual. We only have one car, which usually always works for us, except this time. I needed to take a taxi to work. So the evening before, I scheduled a taxi from DC Yellow Cab (which is based in Ward 5 near Bladensburg and New York Ave). After waiting for some time past my pick up time with no taxi in sight, I had to run to RIA and catch the bus to the Metro (nothing wrong with this option but I needed to go somewhere that no metro train could take me). I was so very disappointed in the failure of the taxi service that day. This reminded me of my partner and I’s Holiday Party at my house last year, where my intoxicated guests called for taxis that never came (luckily a sober driver took them closer into the City so they could hail a taxi). Again, another failure.

These are just some of my stories on how the DC taxi system fails to acknowledge outlying residents. There are so many other stories from other residents in Brookland, Woodridge, and elsewhere that is equally depressing and aggravating. From trying to get to work to needing to go to the airport to catch a flight. All instances: DC taxi failure.

Part of me wants to believe that it is because taxi drivers see it as a dead-fare zone, as with most residential areas. That is probably true for those that take passengers from downtown to the outerlying areas…unless you consider that if people knew that they could go to RIA and catch a taxi, they would and it would create a return fare for those taxi drivers. But what about when taxi’s are requested via the phone or internet? Recently, I had an opportunity to ask a taxi driver this question as I rode from downtown to my house (he was not pleased about my destination after I told him). I was told by this very frank taxi driver that “only the brave drivers go there” when called. So we are ignored because our area is viewed as dangerous?

To quote Fran Lebowitz (while substituting out “Texas”): “Calling a taxi in Ward 5 is like calling a rabbi in Iraq”.

The new taxi regulations, as proposed, is a great step forward for DC. Among other things, it will create a standard color for the taxis, force them to make their top lights work properly, and require real-time reporting. One other point buried deep down in the regulations which pertains to all of us in the underserved areas is this:

“(P) Incentivize taxicab service in geographically underserved areas of the District, which may include the placement of taxicab and limousine stand locations in geographically underserved areas within the District, as established through rulemaking;”

I recently asked Councilmembers Tommy Wells and Mary Cheh what would the incentives be? I will update this blog when I get answers. I think they should also have a better way to monitor the call vs. pick up rates and a better feedback mechanism for riders (or want-to-be riders) to report poor service or lack of. Currently, the feedback system seems antiquated and onerous. Taxi companies should be fined or penalized in some way for failing to respond to calls for service without a legitimate reason.

This issue does matter to our redevelopment efforts along RIA NE. One of the biggest questions we have to answer for more and more good redevelopment is how are we going to bring people to the “Main Street” sections of the Avenue? Bus is certainly one way but patrons need to feel confident that they have ways to get to this area and ways to get home other than the single bus option. What about current residents who want to go grocery shopping and have too much to take on the bus? Transportation options need to be available for RIA in order for it to be successful. We cannot be ignored by the taxicab system.

We can all applaud the efforts of the DC Government in moving our taxicab system further into the present century but as nearly every resident in the Brookland/Woodridge area knows, we have a lot further to go.

7 thoughts on “DC Taxicab: “A rabbi in Iraq”

  1. Preach, preach, PREACH! I have given up on every calling a cab from my neck of the woods after I have been stood up, waiting for over an hour for yellow, diamond and others. Just worthless. I hope these new rules work out!

    As for getting home, I never tell a cabbie where I’m going until I get in the car and shut the door. I do believe it is illegal for cab drivers to refuse to take you anywhere in the city. 🙂

    1. I am the same way, Daniella!! I get in the cab, and then say where. If they give me crap about it, I tell them they just talked themselves out of a tip. Tired of this.

  2. I have the same experience all the time. There are some taxi drivers who are happy to take me home, but most of the time they are blatantly mean about it. I still tip well though. I don’t want to reinforce their beliefs that the trip was worthless.

    As for calling taxi companies, I’ve been in the NW called a cab and they’ve never came to pick me up. Other people have told me the same thing. That seems to be a problem everywhere in DC. I hope the new taxi cab rules have some type of effect.

    Everywhere else I’ve been I’ve had great experiences with the taxi systems. Hell when I vacationed in Jamacia all the taxi’s were even better than DC’s.

  3. Yep, I have this problem all the time, and it’s particularly irksome because I do a lot of travel for work and I NEED to be at the airport on time (70-lb suitcases and laptop-filled carry-ons in tow, so even when Metro is open early enough for me to get to the airport – I take a lot of early-morning flights – that’s not an option). I have almost missed more flights than I care to count, because I (a 30-year-old single woman) am “braver” than a taxi driver in a locked 2000-lb+ car for being willing to go into my own neighborhood. I have recently had good luck with Diamond, but may I suggest seeking out any cab drivers that live in your neighborhood? We have one in our area, and he’s saved me a missed flight a few times.

    As far as not wanting to take you somewhere once you’re IN the cab, you are correct that it is illegal to refuse a fare on those grounds. I actually had a bigger problem with this when I lived on the Hill because the fare was typically small enough that the cabbies felt it wasn’t worth their time. I developed the exact strategy back then that you use now, and continue to use it today: I don’t tell them where I’m going until I get in, and if they give me grief I tell them to drive me to my destination or call the police to have me removed from the cab (and I don’t tip if they complain about it…guess what, I don’t like my job some days, too, and sometimes I feel like I’m not paid anywhere near enough to put up with the crap, but I do it anyway because it’s my JOB). I may not be winning the hearts and minds of our local cab drivers, but, MAN, I have never lived in a city with worse cabs, and I’ve lived in BOSTON! If you’ve never lived there, the cabs are NOTORIOUSLY bad and expensive and…shockingly…the taxi lobby is ALSO quite powerful there, going so far as to prevent the T from staying open until reasonable hours to drum up revenue…and it was STILL better than DC. I’m generally a pro-union kind of girl, but not when the SERVICE organization gets to write their own, customer-unfriendly, regulations.

    I’d love to see some incentive for cabs to come into the neighborhood. They’re not going to be as angry about, or likely to ignore, a call-out to the neighborhood if they’re already parked at a stand at the RIA or Brookland Metro. Putting a stand at the RIA Metro would be a huge boon to tourists who got suckered into the NYA budget hotels. I run into them getting off the Metro fairly frequently, and they are universally astonished when I tell them to get back on the Metro, go back to NYA, and get a taxi from the Courtyard, as they’re not going to find one in the RIA area and if I call one for them it’s just as likely as not to show up. And, yes, it would provide a guaranteed location to find a cab for all those situations you mentioned. The only concern I have about just installing taxi stands is, would the cabbies use them? I presume they have a choice as to whether or not they use a taxi stand and, if so, which ones, so I think it’s going to take more than putting a taxi stand in to get them into the neighborhood.

  4. I’ve had slightly better luck with cabs for the airport via Yellow Cab, but have definitely had issues getting cabs for guests wanting to cab home instead of metro. For the airport, I have started using a car service after checking with my company and discovering that (for Dulles at least) the price is almost equivallent to a cab, so they will reimburse me for either. Reagan is of course a different story.

    I feel like maybe cab drivers really just need some education on the neighborhood. When I first moved to Brookland, I would get in a cab, tell them my street address, and inevitably they’d head toward NE Capitol Hill (dropping one digit off the end of my hosue number assuming 200 X St. NE when I clearly said 2000 X St. NE). After a few blocks I’d correct them, and they would look stunned! This drove me nuts! Seriously?? I live there and I feel safe, what’s your problem?? Now I always tell them the cross streets first, then give them the house number when we’re about halfway there.

    I’ve talked to many cabbies about how much the neighborhood has changed, but really I even feel silly having that conversation. It seems to me their impressions of Brookland, Woodrige, RI Ave are from circa 1985. I shouldn’t have to defend my neighborhood that I’ve lived in (and loved) for almost 10 years as if it just became “ok” last week.

    1. Being a young (I apparently look even younger than I am, according to multiple sources), solo woman, I get the “you live here???!!!” all the time from cab drivers. I have had some of the nicer ones “wait” for me to get in the door before driving off, despite me telling them that I’ve lived here for over 2 years without issue, know all of my neighbors, and am not the least bit concerned about going into my own house at any hour. Sure, the neighborhood has changed, but at least in my case it’s incredibly slight in the last few years. A few more young professionals and college students live here than when I moved in, but, outside of people moving out for a bigger home (the rowhomes around here are fairly small by modern standards), seniors dying or moving to senior’s communities/nursing homes/etc., and a few foreclosures of homes that the owners could have never hoped to afford long-term (the fact that they were offered a loan for these homes in the first place is a whole other topic), it’s pretty much so the same people living here as when I moved in. Certainly no more turnover than a normal neighborhood faced with a rough economy and housing market.

      But the crime rate has dropped precipitously. My cab-driver neighbor tells me about times, just a few years ago, when he was robbed pretty regularly coming home. I have even noticed a difference in the number of n’er-do-wells hanging around the neighborhood and a reduction in late-night noise and trash in the street. When we moved in, we were constantly cleaning up liquor bottles, 40’s, and other trash out of the yard, sidewalk, and street. Now, we clean up the street once in a while (we live on a block without street cleaning) and pick the occasional trash up otherwise, but it’s not a constant problem. For the first time in months, last night someone with a too-loud car stereo parked on my block, but they shut the car off promptly and it was fairly early (maybe around 9…I was annoyed for a second until they shut the car off), where we used to have people pull up on the block, blast their car stereo, and hang out with their friends in a nearby yard or commence a dance party in the street at 2 or 3 AM, sometimes nightly during the warmer months. I think it’s a matter of residents feeling more empowered by the police efforts over the last many years. Crime and quality-of-life issues are no longer expected around these parts, and efforts are demanded and made when problems crop up. I think the change of attitude is the driver here, rather than “fresh blood” or a “newly hot neighborhood.” Again, we haven’t seen a ton of turnover here, but we’ve seen a change in behavior and treatment of undesirable behavior. Maybe the cabbies have seen this, too…I dunno, I just know that I need a cab to DCA at 5 AM on the regular, and I’d appreciate if I didn’t have to jump through hoops, multiple cab companies, and calling, waking, and begging my neighbor to take me to procure that ride.

  5. We called for a cab to take us on our honeymoon for a very early morning flight, and it never showed up. We ended up having to drive at the last minute (b/c we certainly didn’t want to delay our honeymoon!) and it ended up costing us over $250 in airport parking fees. Awesome.

    I’ve also called during rush hour to get a cab, and they said it would be there in 10 mins. 30 minutes later I called and they said “no one would pick up the call.” So, I instead jumped on a bus, to the metro, and then walked almost 2 miles in rain/wet snow to get to my destination. Took about 1.5 hours to get there. As I was about to walk in to my destination, a cab called to say he was there to pick me up. I told him I’d found other means to get to my destination, and he was very annoyed that I hadn’t cancelled the call (which I did try to do, while waiting for the bus, but I was on hold for 20 mins with the company, so eventually just hung up). I guess I shouldn’t have been mad at the guy – at least he was one who showed up!

    Anyway, it’s very disappointing. And it’s even more annoying that there’s no recourse. They suffer not at all by ignoring our calls. Why wouldn’t they ignore us?

    Luckily, I haven’t had too much trouble getting rides home. When in a cab, I always notice there are big signs that say “cabs are required to drive you anywhere in the District.” Yeah, right. Regardless, I always try to tip well, so they won’t mind coming back out here in the future. I’ll keep trying…

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