School Bus Cameras Stop Issuing Tickets — The stop arm cameras on Arlington public school buses are no longer sending citations to those who drive by the buses while the stop signs are activated. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring determined that Arlington does not have the legal authority from the General Assembly to issue summonses from school bus cameras by mail. [Washington Post]
Laundry Room Fire at The Shelton — Yesterday around 6 p.m. a dryer in a laundry room at The Shelton apartment building (3125 24th Street S.) in Nauck caught fire. The fire was reportedly controlled by a sprinkler system, but not before filling the third floor of the building with heavy smoke and prompting an evacuation. [Twitter]
Last Weekend for Hudson Trail Outfitters — The local adventure retailer Hudson Trail Outfitters says this will be their last weekend in business. The company, which has a store on Pentagon Row, is offering 50-80 percent off remaining items. [Hudson Trail Outfitters]
Rep. Beyer Wins Spelling Bee — Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) won the National Press Club’s annual Politicians vs. Press spelling bee Wednesday night. Beyer won by correctly spelling “apostasy” in round 23. The win keeps the spelling bee title in Virginia, after Sen. Tim Kaine won last year. [Politico]
‘Most Interesting Man in Arlington’ Contest — Don Tito in Clarendon will be hosting its first ever “Most Interesting Man in Arlington” contest Saturday night. Hosted by Mel, of 107.3’s morning show, the contest will judge based on looks and a series of challenges. [Clarendon Nights]
Discover Cherrydale This Weekend — The Cherrydale Business Alliance will hold its second annual “Discover Cherrydale” festival on Sunday afternoon. The event will feature vendor booths, a beer garden, food trucks and various family-friendly activities. [ARLnow Events]
Red Top Given Green Light for Stickers — An Arlington County Board-ordered review of new stickers on the back window of Red Top taxicabs has found no safety hazard. Lou Gatti, a long-time cab driver who is now an industry critic and who was the one who raised concerns, was disappointed by the findings. “There are no checks and balances in this industry, except for me,” Gatti is quoted as saying. “I can’t understand why no one seems to care about the facts and the laws, except me.” [InsideNova]
Blue Line Issues This Morning — A faulty switch near the Pentagon prompted Metro to route Blue Line trains over the Yellow Line bridge for a significant portion of this morning’s rush hour. [Twitter]
The recently-updated Red Top Select app features allow users to reserve a cab in advance or repeat one of their previous trips with the touch of a button. The company says those features go beyond the functionality of Uber, which has been the scourge of traditional taxi companies and driver everywhere it operates.
“With Uber, riders have to wait until they are ready to ride and hope there is a car available near them and also hope that Uber is not charging surge prices at the time they need their ride. With the Red Top Select app, riders can select the date and time in advance and their car will be waiting for them, instead of them waiting for the car,” said Red Top Cab spokesman Von Pelot.
Riders also have the option to book a ride based on a previous destination, saving some effort, Pelot said.
Like with Uber, Red Top Cab app users can link a credit card and pay for the rides from their phones. The app also allows companies to hook up a corporate account, and riders can decide between getting picked up by a taxi, a Red Select sedan or a luxury car.
“Of course, the app also lets riders view available cabs/sedan in their area, select the type of ride they want (Red Top Cab, Red Select sedan or Red Select black car) and track the arrival of their vehicle,” Pelot said in an email.
The focus on technology comes at a time of transition for Red Top, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. The taxi company has sold its long-time Clarendon headquarters, which will eventually be torn down to make way for a new apartment or condo development.
Red Top is planning to stay in Arlington, but is still trying to figure out where exactly it will move to. The company is currently looking for a new location for its headquarters, Pelot said, but he could not go into additional specifics.
Disclosure: Red Top Cab is an ARLnow.com advertiser.
The Arlington County Board next Tuesday will consider a major redevelopment of the western end of the Clarendon neighborhood.
Arlington-based developer The Shooshan Company is proposing to build three residential buildings with up to 580 units of housing and 3,477 square feet of retail space. The apartments or condos will be built on what is now mostly parking lots and offices for Red Top Cab, along Washington Blvd and 13th Street N. Two other aging, low-rise commercial buildings are also slated for demolition.
The proposed maximum building height is 110 feet, but the structures are designed to “taper up” away from the single family home neighborhood.
A county staff report for the final proposal has not yet been posted. At a July Site Plan Review Committee meeting, Shooshan proposed only 468 parking spaces for the project, or 0.8 spaces per dwelling unit, explaining that those who live in apartments near transit are “less likely to own automobiles and more likely to utilize alternative modes of transportation.”
Two phases of construction are being proposed. The first will be the building at the corner of Washington Blvd and 13th Street, on the current Red Top Cab communication center property. The second phase, which will be built “dependent upon market conditions,” will raze the Red Top headquarters property along N. Hudson Street.
Shooshan says benefits of the project include an improved Washington Blvd and 13th Street alignment, a new 12th Street N. to break up a large block, stoop entrances along 13th Street to improve street activity, a new Ivy Street pedestrian path and dedication of open space near the Washington and 13th intersection for a future park.
The County Board is scheduled to consider the development at its Tuesday night recessed meeting on Oct. 20.
Red Top Cab has said that it intends to move its headquarters to a new location in Arlington.
“Red Top Cab has served our community for over fifty years and plans to continue to do so,” Red Top Director of Sales and Marketing Von Pelot told ARLnow.com in March. “Over the years we have moved our offices from time to time to update our facilities and accommodate a growing staff. Each time careful planning has enabled us to make these moves without any interruption of service to our customers.”
(Updated at 12:50 p.m.) Red Top Cab may be considering selling its headquarters in Clarendon, but it’s not considering ending its service in Arlington, company officials say.
Red Top has signed a purchase agreement with a developer for its properties on Washington Blvd and N. Hudson Street, the Washington Business Journal reported. While that article said Red Top’s future was “unclear” — the reporter was not able to talk to a Red Top rep before publication — Director of Sales and Marketing Von Pelot says the company’s future is secure, even in the age of Uber.
“I was reminded of the words of Mark Twain when his obituary was prematurely published, ‘Reports of my demise are greatly exaggerated,'” Pelot said via email. “Our recent development and introduction of the Red Top Select app which provides our customers with the convenience of booking, tracking, and paying for their ride through their mobile phone, is an example of our continuing commitment to our customers and our community.”
“Red Top Cab has served our community for over fifty years and plans to continue to do so,” Pelot continued. “Over the years we have moved our offices from time to time to update our facilities and accommodate a growing staff. Each time careful planning has enabled us to make these moves without any interruption of service to our customers.”
Red Top moved to its N. Hudson Street location in 1970, after its founding in 1964 by Washington-Lee High School graduate Neal Nichols. Before that it had another office in Clarendon, at 10th Street and N. Highland Street. Red Top’s dispatch center moved to a nearby location at 3251 Washington Blvd in 1994, Pelot recounted.
While a redevelopment deal has been struck, with plans to eventually build 584 apartments on Red Top’s property, Pelot said Red Top is staying put for now.
“No move is imminent,” he said. “Planning is very much in the early stages.”
Pelot declined to discuss where Red Top may move its offices next.
“As is often the case in situations such as this, discussions about relocating our facilities are governed by rules of confidentiality and I can only tell you that we plan to continue to provide service to our Arlington community,” he said.
Disclosure: Red Top Cab is an ARLnow.com advertiser.
Red Top Development Deal Struck — A potential deal to redevelop Red Top Cab’s property in Clarendon, which we first reported in September, is closer to becoming reality. The Shooshan Company has reportedly entered a purchase agreement with Red Top that would build three residential properties with 584 units on the 3.44 acre site. [Washington Business Journal]
Spring Yard Waste Collection — Arlington County’s spring yard waste collection is set to start Monday and run through April 24. For homeowners, the collection will take place the next business day after their trash collection. [Patch]
APS ‘Traveling Trolley’ Wins Award — Arlington Public Schools has won a national award for its Traveling Trolley summer reading program . The trolley helps close the student achievement gap, providing “an effective way for low income families to gain access to printed text by providing free transportation to their neighborhood branch of the Arlington Public Library,” according to APS. [Arlington Public Schools]
New Va. Breastfeeding Law — A new law signed by Va. Gov. Terry McAuliffe allows mothers to legally breastfeed in public, including in privately-owned buildings and businesses. The law will take effect July 1. [WUSA 9 – WARNING: AUTO-PLAY VIDEO]
(Updated at 5:15 p.m.) Red Top Cab is exploring redeveloping its two properties in Clarendon as apartment buildings with ground floor retail.
Red Top has occupied those parcels for decades under owner Neal Nichols, who founded the taxi company in 1964. Nichols has partnered with Ballston-based developer The Shooshan Company with the intent of redeveloping its business office and large surface parking lot at 1200 N. Hudson Street and its communications center at 3251 Washington Blvd, ARLnow.com has learned.
According to Tom Miller, a planning supervisor in Arlington County’s Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development, representatives from the Shooshan Company held “a preliminary meeting” with the county to discuss the plans, but no permits or site plan applications have been submitted yet. The developers also met with the Lyon Village Civic Association to discuss the plans.
The two properties are adjacent to the recently opened Beacon Clarendon apartment project at the corner of Washington and Wilson Blvds.
A Shooshan Company official declined to discuss the plans before they are more concrete. Nichols has owned the 23,000 square foot parcel at 1200 N. Hudson Street since 1969, according to Arlington County property records. Nichols purchased the 13,560 square-foot communications center property in 1993.
(Updated at 4:40 p.m.) Arlington Red Top Cab launched “Red Select” last week, a car service designed to be less expensive for customers than ordering a Lincoln Town Car, but a different level of service than a taxi.
“We’ve seen, particularly with this economic environment, there’s a space between taxi and sedan,” said Red Top Director of Sales and Marketing Von Pelot, “where we can offer something of a boutique car service.”
The service has been in a pilot phase since June. It’s launching small, with just a handful of cars and drivers trained, vetted and hired specifically to drive the new black Ford Fusions. The service is by reservation only, and costs $3 per ride and an additional $2.50 per mile, with no fees for luggage or extra people.
The service currently has a dozen cars in operation and, for the benefit of the relatively small roster of drivers, currently only operates from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
“We think there is going to be big demand,” said Red Top Chief Operating Officer Jack Weiner. “People really want reliable transportation in a clean, well-maintained car that’s fully insured with a driver that’s fully vetted.”
Weiner said Red Select is another way to stay competitive in the rapidly-changing taxi and car service industry. He said last week’s decision by Gov. Terry McAuliffe that Über and Lyft can legally operate in the state, at least temporarily didn’t change his optimism for the new product.
“The recent events don’t really have a lot of bearing on it,” he said. “People’s expectations are changing and you need more than one type of product.”
Customers can call 703-777-7777 to request a Red Select car, and Red Top is developing a separate app for Red Select customers.
Disclosure: Arlington Red Top Cab is an ARLnow.com advertiser
Two passengers of a Red Top taxi cab were injured in a three-vehicle collision today.
The crash happened around noon in the southbound lanes of George Mason Drive, in front of the Army National Guard Readiness Center. Initial reports suggest an Arlington County work truck and the Red Top Cab sedan were stopped in the right-hand lane when the cab was rear-ended by an Advanced Towing truck. The cab was sandwiched between the other two vehicles, causing front- and rear-end damage.
An Arlington couple in their 60s were in the backseat of the cab at the time of the crash, according to Tanvir Ahmed, their son. Ahmed said his mother, who was returning home from cancer treatment at Virginia Hospital Center, suffered a head injury and was bleeding when she was taken via ambulance back to the hospital. His father suffered minor injuries, he said.
All three drivers remained on scene following the wreck. Only minor damage was visible on the rear bumper of the county truck. The tow truck had moderate front-end damage.
So far, there’s no official word from police regarding the cause of the crash. No other injuries were reported.
Almost 100 taxi drivers crowded into the office of the Arlington County Board Friday morning, demanding a meeting with Board Chairman Walter Tejada to protest working conditions in Arlington.
The crowd of drivers were many of the same who protested in Clarendon last month against the same issue: the ordinance that regulates taxi operating permits, which the protesting drivers feel is written in the interest of the taxi companies’ owners, not the drivers.
The Arlington United Taxi Operators and Tenants and Workers United again organized the protest. Tejada was not in the office Friday morning, but the drivers were able to get a brief audience with Board member Mary Hynes and speak to Tejada on speakerphone, setting up a meeting for Wednesday, Oct. 16 at 3:00 p.m.
The demonstration was organized quickly after Yellow Cab Co. driver Abdellah Ouazzani said he was fired on Wednesday for speaking out against the cab companies. Ouazzani claims that a Yellow Cab manager struck him on the shoulder several times while demanding that he either sell back his taxi to the company or be fired.
“It went from peaceful protests and turned violent,” Ouazzani said. He filed a complaint with the police, who are investigating the incident, but Ouazzani did not have any bruises as a result of the alleged confrontation, we’re told. An official with Red Top Cab, which owns Yellow Cab Co., could not be reached for comment.
Acting Deputy County Manager Jay Farr asked the drivers to leave the office and move the protest to the County Board room, and then called the police. The drivers refused to relocate, but police remained next door in the County Manager’s office, and did not engage with the protesters.
“We’re not trying to have a confrontation,” Farr said. “We want to give them a chance to protest, but we have to conduct government business.”
Dozens of taxi drivers converged on Clarendon this afternoon, deliberately disrupting traffic to protest what they claim are poor working conditions in Arlington.
The cab drivers drove slowly around the Clarendon Metro station in protest of their employers and Arlington County. Organized by the cab drivers union Arlington United Taxi Operators, they’re lobbying for a public hearing before the County Board.
The drivers and the union want to change the ordinance that regulates taxi operating permits, which the protesting drivers feel is written in the interest of the taxi companies’ owners, not the drivers.
“The companies basically treat us like slaves,” said Abdellah Ouazzani, a cab driver who declined to state which company he drives for out of fear of losing his job. “They abuse us and they can fire us any time they want.”
In recent years, Red Top Cab and Yellow Cab Company, owned by the same parent company, have raised the dues drivers pay from $145 to $175 to $205 a week, Red Top Cab Vice President Charlie King confirmed. The most recent increase, King said, was coupled with a reduction in credit card fees drivers pay when customers charge their rides, estimated at $30 a week.
Drivers say the steeper fees cut into the pay they end up taking home at the end of the week, leaving “poverty-level earnings,” but companies argue that it’s fair given that the fees often cover the cost of the cabs themselves and the dispatch services that connects drivers with customers.
“Yellow Cab was operating at a loss at $145 a week,” King said. As for the perceived unfair treatment of its drivers, King said, “that’s clearly not the case. We don’t have a record of needlessly terminating cab drivers. We have a great deal of respect for our drivers.”
The Arlington County Board reviews the taxicab ordinance every two years, and when the board took up the issue last year, the taxi union demonstrated many of the same concerns and accused the County Board of racism.
The union wants the county to distribute permits to individual drivers, while the code states the nearly 800 permits in circulation are to be allocated to companies. Red Top Cab and Yellow Cab Co. combine to hold 455 operating permits, King said. Blue Top Cab holds about 170.
The union, along with Tenants and Workers United and Virginia New Majority, a progressive advocacy group, are planning future “disruptions” in other parts of Arlington, including in Courthouse, Pentagon City and Shirlington.
“We want to disrupt other areas so they can be made aware,” said Deshundra Jefferson, spokeswoman for Virginia New Majority, said. “Taxicabs are like sweatshops on wheels, and people don’t even know that the drivers are relying on Medicaid and food stamps.”
Video courtesy Virginia New Majority
Many police departments and taxi companies are still trying to find a suitable replacement for the venerable but discontinued Ford Crown Victoria , but Arlington’s Red Top Cab already chosen its Crown Vic successor: the 2013 Ford Fusion.
Far from being a generic, workhorse fleet vehicle, the 2013 Fusion is actually a stylish car that’s setting sales records. Red Top, which has 58 older Fusion models in its fleet, says the newly-redesigned Fusion (starting MSRP: $21,900) is ideal for taxi use.
“Our 2013 Ford Fusions use aerodynamic styling and advanced engineering to provide exceptional gas mileage and a reduced carbon footprint without sacrificing comfort or safety,” the company said in its March newsletter. “Comfortable seating for five, a surprising commodious trunk, with rear seats that can fold down to accommodate items like skis, make for a very versatile taxicab.”
Red Top marketing director Von Pelot says the company has 20 new Fusions in its fleet of 350 cabs, and plans to add 30 more this year.
“We expect the Fusion to be our primary replacement vehicle for the Red Top fleet at this time,” Pelot said. He said that familiarity with Ford, an economical price, and safety were also factors when choosing a new fleet vehicle.
“The design of the 2013 also virtually eliminates ‘blind spots’ with windows strategically placed to provide almost 360 degrees of visibility,” he said. “Also, the 2013 Ford Fusion earned the highest five-star safety rating in federal crash tests, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.”
The car has been well-received by both taxi passengers and drivers.
“As a taxicab company, we have two sets of customers, our drivers — our ‘front seat customers’ — and our passengers,” he said. “We are receiving very positive reviews from the drivers who love the handling, lack of blind spots, fuel economy and really cool look of the 2013 Fusion. Our passengers like the comfort, and trunk size (those who use us for trips to the airport or shopping).”
Pelot said he’s not aware of any other local cab companies that are using the 2013 Fusion. Ford has not responded to a request for comment.
Human Rights Award Winners Announced — The Arlington Human Rights Commission has announced the winners for the 2012 James B. Hunter Human Rights Award. Two community groups — Wakefield High School’s Project Upstanders and Washington-Lee High School’s Best Buddies Club — received the honor, along with two individuals — recent Wakefield graduate Sara Heisey and Santa Fe Cafe owner John “Kip” Laramie. Awards will be presented at a ceremony on December 13. [Arlington County]
Red Top Toys for Tots Drive — From now through Monday, December 17, all Red Top Cabs will serve as Toys for Tots collection sites. Customers can bring a new, unwrapped toy to donate when riding in one of the cabs. Red Top will deliver the toys to the Marine Corps Toys for Tots Foundation for distribution to local needy children. Arlington Yellow Cab is also participating in the program.
Board Approves Year-Round Westover Farmers’ Market — At its meeting yesterday (November 27), the County Board unanimously approved a new schedule and location for the Westover Farmers’ Market. The existing summer market will now run from May through November and a winter market will run from December through April, essentially making it a year-round market. The winter market will be smaller than the summer version. As far as location, the market will now be located mostly on the Reed School property.
(Updated at 2:30 p.m.) Arlington residents can expect to see an unusual car on the streets through the holiday season, reminding of the dangers of drunk driving.
The Arlington County Police Department partnered with Red Top Cab and the Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP) in the unveiling of a vehicle that’s half police car and half taxicab. The vehicle has been nicknamed the “Chooser Cruiser” because it reminds people that they have choices for getting home after drinking — in the back of a taxi or in the back of a police car.
“We are very excited to present yet another reminder of the choice people have before taking to the roads if alcohol is part of their celebration,” said Red Top Cab Chief Operating Officer Wayne Miller.
As part of the public/private initiative, Red Top donated the former taxi, which has more than 396,000 miles on it, and paid for its makeover. ACPD donated the lights on top which had previously been on a former police cruiser, and will be responsible for positioning the vehicle throughout the county. Both organizations emphasize that due to the donations, the vehicle was of practically no cost to taxpayers.
The car’s unveiling (which was delayed due to Superstorm Sandy) comes just in time for the holiday season. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 25 percent of all drunk driving deaths in the U.S. occur in December. The holidays of Christmas and New Year’s Eve see a 40 percent and 60 percent spike in alcohol related traffic deaths, respectively.
“The holiday season is a particularly dangerous time,” said ACPD Chief M. Douglas Scott. “We’re doing everything we can to both identify and apprehend impaired drivers.”
Chief Scott noted that penalties for first time drunk driving offenders include up to a $2,500 fine, a jail term of up to one year and/or the suspension of the offender’s drivers license for up to one year.
Neal Nichols, President of Red Top Cab, handed over the vehicle’s keys to Chief Scott at the unveiling ceremony.
“This retired Red Top Cab spent some of its time already taking people home who had overindulged,” Nichols said. “Let’s hope that this Chooser Cruiser will cause people to think twice and will save lives.”
Arlington is the first area in the D.C. metro to take part in this pilot program. The Chooser Cruiser will be stationed at various points around the county through the new year. It will be used in conjunction with regularly scheduled sobriety checkpoints.
“Hopefully it will change behavior. Even if it changes the behavior of one individual, it can be deemed a success,” said ACPD spokesman Dustin Sternbeck. “Drunk driving is one of the rare public health issues that is 100% preventable.”
On the front of the car are all the badges for the D.C. metro area’s supporting law enforcement agencies. The back features the number to call for a free lift from SoberRide, a service that has provided nearly 56,000 free rides since 1993.
Starting on December 14 and running through January 1, local residents age 21 and older can call SoberRide for a free trip home, up to a $30 fare. Between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., residents can call 1-800-200-TAXI (8294), and AT&T customers can text #WRAP. One of these methods must be used to get the free ride, because calling individual cab companies directly will result in normal cab fares. More information about the program is available online.
Update on 10/29/12 — The press event has been postponed until after Election Day (Nov. 6) due to Hurricane Sandy.
Arlington County Police, the Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP) and Red Top Cab are preparing to reveal a secret weapon in the fight against drunk driving.
The weapon: a Ford Crown Victoria that’s half ACPD police car and half taxi. The vehicle — pictured here on the county property yard several weeks ago, in an unfinished state — will be parked strategically throughout the county and used to remind party-goers of two options for getting back home after a night of drinking: in the back of a taxi or, if they try to drive drunk, in the back of a police car.
The vehicle, which is still being retrofitted and decorated, will be officially unveiled just
before noon outside Arlington police headquarters on Wednesday (Halloween). The unveiling will coincide with WRAP’s SoberRide program, which will offer anyone 21 and over in the greater D.C. area a free taxi ride home from 10:00 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 31 to 6:00 a.m. the next day. The SoberRide phone number is 1-800-200-TAXI.
SoberRide operates on high-risk holidays: Halloween, New Year’s Eve, St. Patrick’s Day and Independence Day. Halloween is a particularly dangerous time to drive: 40 percent of all U.S. traffic deaths during Halloween are caused by drunk drivers, according to WRAP.
While the Halloween holiday isn’t until Wednesday, the anti-drunk driving message also applies this weekend, which is prime time for Halloween parties and bar crawls.
A lot of people celebrate the holiday season with alcohol, which can make the roads dangerous. To keep the streets a little safer from potentially impaired drivers, SoberRide is offering free taxi rides home.
From now through January 1, riders in Arlington and the surrounding areas can receive a free cab ride home, up to a $30 fare. The Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WARP) teamed up with several sponsors to offer the service. Multiple taxi companies, including Arlington’s Red Top Cab, are participating in the initiative.
Riders must be at least 21 years old and follow a few guidelines, including not reserving a taxi in advance. The service runs from 10:00 p.m. through 6:00 a.m.
All calls must go to 1-800-200-TAXI. Do not call your local cab company directly to request SoberRide services. There is more information about the program on the WRAP website.