Image by GKJ used with permission.

This summer, the DC Department of For-Hire Vehicles is piloting programs to provide more transit options for residents in parts of the city. Taxi-to-Rail (T2R) provides rides for people traveling to or from one of the eight metro stations east of the Anacostia. DC Microtransit provides transit services to northeast and northwest parts of DC. Both services typically cost $3 per ride, though DC Microtransit is free through the end of September.

The area that DC Microtransit covers.  Image by DC_DFHV.

“One of the things we wanted to do was improve services and quality of life for residents east of the river,” said David Do, Director of DFHV, which is supplying the grants for the programs. “What we saw in our data, we saw people east of the river often have the longest commute. “We wanted to improve transportation equity by closing the commute time gap.”

Yellow Cab Company of DC and United Ventures Consortium (UVC) were the grantees for the T2R program, while Transco and Via administer the DC Microtransit program.

“And more than that we want to find a last and first mile solution,” Do said. “We wanted to find synergies between our wonderful metro system and the for-hire industry, and so we came up with this idea of a program to help with that.”

The microtransit pilot covers a specific predetermined route bordered by Georgia Avenue on the east, Missouri Avenue/Riggs Road to the north, Eastern Avenue on the west, and Rhode Island Avenue to the south, according to the service site. Residents can use the DC Microtransit app or call 202-398-0500. For the Taxi-to-Rail service, you can call 202-727-3T2R. Yellow Cab allows you go online at orderyellowcab.com or to use its app to process your order.

How are the services going?

So far about 22 people have used the T2R service since its launch in early May. However ridership numbers for UVC, the other grantee, were not available at press time.

“It started up a little slowly, and we’ve been trying to build capacity,” Do said.

DC Microtransit has seen a bit more success, with between 300-400 rides completed since its May 24 rollout. But the goal is the same, Do says: To provide people in Wards 4, 5, and 1 who have more than a 15-minute walk to a Metro transit station other transit options.

DFHV has committed $65,000 to developing the T2R program, and $170,000 to service individuals in parts of wards 4, 5, and 1 for the MicroTransit Pilot Program.

Even though DCDFHV is a separate department from DDOT, Do says there is “constant communication” between the agencies about what is happening. “We are trying to provide a robust system. I don’t see them to be in opposition of each other.”

“We’re trying to be very nimble and quick with these programs,” Do said, “So we often try to run with programs and see what works and serve residentes rather quickly. I think that’s the difference with us.”

Jason Starr, Partner Success Principal at Via, whose company developed the app used in the DC Microtransit program, says the measurement for success was simple.

“Increase ridership and offer a more convenient, efficient, and affordable way for users to get around,” Starr said in an email. “especially for seniors, disabled persons, lower-income residents, first-and-last-mile commuters, and other communities historically underserved by traditional forms of public transit.”

Roy Spooner Sr., general manager of the Yellow Cab of DC, said the program has the potential to benefit people who need it most.

“There is a community that is walking or having to take another bus and it’s taking them forever to get home,” Spooner Sr. said. “Forget about the numbers, even if we help 15-20 people a day. We’d like to see 30, 40, 50, 60 people a day, but we accept that this will take some time to get out.”

I tried the Taxi to Rail service myself

I decided to test out the Taxi-to-Rail service, so I called the T2R number from the Anacostia metro station. A friendly customer service representative captured my information and I immediately got a ping and a link to my cab via text. The cab arrived in about five minutes and took me to my lunch destination: Busboys and Poets in Anacostia.

However, when attempted to pay, I was given a full price fare. When I explained I was using the taxi to rail service, I was told I would have to use a dedicated number. After speaking with another customer service agents I confirmed the number, and ended up paying just $3.

On my return trip I called the number again and got another ping that my ride was coming, but five minutes later my cab was cancelled. I waited for the service to call me back. They didn’t, so I called and booked another ride.

Bedru Nuri, who has been driving taxis since 1999, picked me up. But neither of us could figure out how he would input the code to indicate I was a T2R customer. The ride was comfortable and quick, but I ended up paying full price.

Nuri said I was his first T2R customer, but he was excited about the service.

“For me this is good,” Nuri said. “I would like for this system to work.” However: “They have to advertise it well. Just like Uber, let people know. Also we need some kind of instruction.”

When I asked Do about training and disseminating information, he said, “We often times don’t like hand-holding grantees. Sometimes as the grantees roll out these programs they sometimes think riderships follows, and that has not always been the case… I have directed my outreach team to hand out fliers to let residents know this program is available. There are always growing pains.”

Both pilot programs will run until September 30. At that time, which coincides with the conclusion of DFHV’s fiscal year, Do said his agency will evaulate the services to determine their feasibility and decide if they will continue.

George Kevin Jordan is GGWash's Editor and Correspondent writing about urgency and equity in transportation in the Washington region and also the transformation of Tysons. He is a proud new-ish resident of Hillcrest in DC's Ward 7. He was born and raised in Milwaukee and has written for many publications, most recently the AFRO and about HIV/AIDS issues for TheBody.com.