Update at 9:40 a.m. on 2/22/21 — At the public Feb 20 County Board meeting, the board officially codified the motion to provide relief for Arlington taxi companies. It was part of the consent agenda, meaning it’s non-controversial and passed with a single vote.
Original – The County Board is providing relief to struggling Arlington taxi companies.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the Board passed a motion to waive 2021 certificate fees for up to 50 cabs per company, as well as for all wheelchair accessible taxicab vehicles. For those companies that have more than 50 cabs, a reduced annual fee of $50 per cab, down from $150, will apply.
Arlington’s taxicab ordinance requires an annual renewal certificate of public convenience and necessity for each cab on the road. That fee typically is $150 to be paid by February 1.
The County Board’s motion is different from the one County Manager Mark Schwartz initially proposed in the staff report. That proposal called for all certificate fees to be cut from $150 to $50 and be waived only wheelchair accessible vehicles.
The Board felt that this motion did not go far enough in helping an industry that’s been devastated in recent years not just by the pandemic, but also by the rise of ride hailing companies like Uber and Lyft.
In Arlington, six cab companies are currently in operation: Hess, Arlington Yellow, Crown, Friendly, Blue Top, and Red Top — the latter of which is the largest.
Combined, the companies had 477 cabs operating on local roads in 2020. That’s down from 542 in 2019 and a record-high of 847 in 2017.
Many of these companies have been in operation for decades, still owned and operated by the same families.
“It is devastating to see what’s happening to the taxi industry,” County Board Member Christian Dorsey said at the meeting. “It’s like switchboard operators of the past. It’s an industry that’s being driven into obsolescence. And COVID has hastened that decline.”
The call for help came from the companies themselves, in the form of letters and public comments at the meeting, in which speakers asked for a reduction or waiving of the fees.
John Massoud was one of those who sent a letter. He’s vice-president of Blue Top Cabs, a company he and his father founded in 1984. Massoud tells ARLnow that while Blue Top took a hit when Uber and Lyft became popular, they were doing okay.
“We were adapting. It was difficult, but we were getting it done,” says Massoud. “But then the virus hit.”
The company lost nearly a million dollars in revenue since the pandemic, he says, mostly due to the closing of Arlington Public Schools — transporting students is a huge part of their business.
“We are one of the only two companies in Arlington to have wheelchair vans,” says Massoud. “Our business model has always been focused on serving Arlington residents and the special needs community.”
He requested a two year waiver of the fee and believes the steps taken by the Board are “in the right direction,” but it still leaves him in tough spot.
“We have 119 certificates and most drivers aren’t working, so we are paying for something we can’t use,” Massoud said.
Ninety-year-old Hartman Reed of Crown Cabs is the owner of one of the two Black-owned cab businesses in Arlington, which historically provided rides to those in the Green Valley and Halls Hill communities when other cabs would not.
He explained at the meeting that in the nearly five decades he’s been in business, 2020 was the hardest.
“I’ve been in this business for 47 years — 46 of those years have been wonderful, but this year has been devastating,” he said.
Since April, the company has only made $800 in revenue and a number of drivers have given up their certificates.
Darryl Collins, owner of Friendly Cabs, also spoke, noting that his grandfather started the company in 1948 because of segregation.
“African-Americans couldn’t be born in Arlington, Virginia, so we had to transport [pregnant mothers] to Howard University Hospital [in D.C.],” he said.
He, too, said they’re struggling immensely, losing thousands of dollars every month.
The County Manager’s proposal would have cost the county about $50,000 in revenue in comparison to 2020. That loss of revenue will be higher given the motion that the County Board did pass, though the exact figures have yet to be reported.
Four out of the six cab companies in Arlington have fewer than 50 vehicles, meaning that they will not pay any certification fees for the upcoming year.
Red Top and Blue Top both operate more than 150 cabs, meaning they’ll pay the $50 fee on a large portion of their fleet. However, those companies are the only ones that operate wheelchair accessible vehicles and will not have to pay any fees on those.
All of this helps, says Massoud, but he says he’s lost 90% to 95% of his business. This has left him fearful that the family taxi business may not last.
“I’m not an optimist or a pessimist. I’m a realist,” he says. “I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
After a brief delay, the developers of the Red Top Cab properties in Clarendon look set to win permission to include fewer parking spaces as part of a major redevelopment of the area into mixed-use buildings.
The Shooshan Company has hoped for weeks now to slash 178 parking spaces from its previously approved plans for the site, located where Washington Boulevard meets 13th Street N. The developer has long planned on transforming the space into three buildings offering 584 multifamily units, 1,295 square feet of retail space and two parking garages, but hoped to cut back on some of the parking at the site to save a bit of money.
The County Board first heard that request back in September, but ultimately decided to delay consideration of the matter for a month. That decision was largely due to “concerns expressed by the Board Members regarding retroactive changes to the residential parking ratio” after plans were already approved, according to a county staff report on the issue.
Neighbors also voiced concerns that a reduction in parking without a corresponding addition of space for bicycles would have a negative impact on surrounding streets.
Since then, county staff have taken a fresh look at the issue, and are prepared to tell the Board that “no undue adverse impacts are anticipated as a result of the reduction in the parking ratio.”
Not only did county staffers “not find any deficiencies in the infrastructure around the site,” but the developer also completed another analysis of traffic in the area. That study found that changes in the area are likely to reduce congestion nearby, and that the parking to be added (both in the garages and on the street) should be adequate to manage demand in the neighborhood.
The Board will consider the issue again at its meeting tomorrow (Saturday). Shooshan is currently targeting the first quarter of 2019 to begin construction on the properties, and recently closed on the sale of the property while also teaming up with another developer to manage the project.
Arlington Losing Big Office Tenant — “BAE Systems Inc. is moving its headquarters to Falls Church as part of a consolidation of its Northern Virginia office space… The move will also further ding Arlington County’s office vacancy rate, which at the end of 2017 was 20.6 percent.” [Washington Business Journal]
Hazmat Situation at Kaiser Permanente — Arlington County firefighters responded to a hazardous materials incident at Kaiser Permanente in Falls Church yesterday. Five people were evaluated by medics and, of them, two were transported to the hospital. [WJLA, Twitter, Twitter]
Red Top Development Groundbreaking Nears — “The Shooshan Co. has teamed up with Trammell Crow Residential on the first phase of its planned Red Top Cab site redevelopment in Clarendon, with groundbreaking slated for early next year. The partners closed Sept. 29 on their acquisition from The Red Top Cab Co. founder Neal Nichols of several parcels along Irving and Hudson streets for a listed consideration amount of nearly $28.2 million, according to Arlington County’s Recorder of Deeds.” [Washington Business Journal]
RIP Lance Newman and Tim Wise — Two notable Arlingtonians have died: “Tim Wise, the longtime president of the Arlington County Taxpayers Association, died Friday in Fredericksburg after a 10-month battle with cancer and heart trouble… Lance Newman, one of four black students who in February 1959 began attending a previously all-white middle school in Arlington… had died after a short illness.” [InsideNova]
ACSO Launches Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign — “Breast cancer hits close to home for the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office, which has launched a campaign to raise awareness about early detection and preventative care. Over the last six years, two employees at the county’s sheriff’s office have been diagnosed with breast cancer.” [WUSA 9]
Forum Planned to Discuss Accessory Dwellings — “A forum looking at current regulations related to accessory-dwelling units in Arlington will be held on Monday, Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. at Central Library. Speakers will discuss how changes made to the county’s housing ordinances in 2017 impact the regulatory process, and will look at whether further changes are needed.” [InsideNova]
The developer looking to transform the Red Top Cab properties in Clarendon into three mixed-use buildings now hopes to cut back on the parking offered on the properties, prompting some worries from neighbors.
The Shooshan Company is asking the County Board for permission to remove one floor from both of the underground lots planned for the site, a reduction of about 178 parking spaces in all. Work is set to begin soon on the long-delayed development, which will replace Red Top’s headquarters (located where Washington Boulevard meets 13th Street N.) and the lot the company once used for vehicle maintenance at 1200 N. Hudson Street.
The three buildings are set to offer a total of 584 multifamily units, with 1,295 square feet of retail space thrown in as well, yet the Ballston-based developer is looking to cut back on parking as a cost-saving measure. In all, the company is proposing dividing 285 spaces between the two garages, compared to the 463 originally approved when the Board signed off on the project a few years back.
County staff seem more than ready to agree to such a change, noting in a report prepared for the Board that the development still “meets and exceeds” the county’s minimum parking requirements, even after the space reduction. The Board passed a plan last November to allow developers to build less parking along Metro corridors, in order to increase the use of public transit, car-sharing and other, greener transportation options.
Shooshan also plans to offer 20 parking spaces specifically reserved for visitors to the development, “which will mitigate overspill parking on surrounding streets from building visitors,” staff predict.
Even still, the Lyon Village Civic Association has made it clear to the county that it harbors concerns about the parking reduction’s impact on surrounding neighborhoods. While the development itself sits on the edge of Clarendon’s main strip, there are a series of single-family homes along streets like N. Kirkwood Road, N. Johnson Street and N. Jackson Street.
“The civic association representatives expressed concern about the potential for overspill parking as a result of the applicant not providing mitigation, such as additional bike parking, in exchange for the lowered parking ratio,” staff wrote in the report.
Yet transportation planners believe Shooshan has enough bike parking built into its plans already, noting just how close the development will be to the Clarendon Metro station and a variety of bus stops as part of the area’s “robust transportation network.”
Staff fully endorsed all these changes, but the Board will have the final say at its meeting Saturday (Sept. 22). Should it win these remaining approvals, the developer plans to start work on two of the three buildings sometime “in the first quarter of 2019,” staff wrote.
Long-delayed plans to transform Red Top Cab’s properties in western Clarendon into three new mixed-use buildings could soon move ahead.
The Arlington County Board is set to consider a series of zoning changes this weekend to let Ballston-based developer The Shooshan Company start re-developing the lots, which sit behind Clarendon’s main strip of bars along Wilson Boulevard.
In all, the developer is hoping to build a total of 584 multifamily units across the three buildings, with 1,295 square feet of retail space included as well. The new development would replace Red Top’s headquarters (located where Washington Boulevard meets 13th Street N.), in addition to the lot the company once used for vehicle maintenance at 1200 N. Hudson Street.
The County Board first approved the project in October 2015. But work hasn’t moved ahead on the project as the developer has tweaked its construction plans, according to a staff report prepared for the Board.
Originally, The Shooshan Company planned to start work on the building along N. Ivy Street first. But that location is also home to a daycare center, NOVA KinderCare, and the developer wanted to let that business stay open, staff wrote. Accordingly, they want to move forward with work on the property at the N. Hudson Street — originally the second phase of the project — to kick things off instead.
In exchange for clearing the way for the development by vacating several properties in the area, Shooshan has agreed to donate four parcels of land along the 1100 block of N. Jackson Street, valued at about $3 million, to the county. That will help the county move ahead with its plans to do away with the reversible lanes on Washington Boulevard and create “a more conventional ‘T’ intersection” with 13th Street N., staff wrote.
The developer also plans to donate land to the county to help it build a park in the area, and will include at least six affordable housing units in the new buildings. Red Top plans to move its headquarters elsewhere in Arlington, if these plans go forward, and has already moved its maintenance operations to Falls Church.
County staff is recommending that the Board approve these changes. The Board is scheduled to take up the matter at its Saturday (May 19) meeting.
(Updated at 5:30 p.m.) Arlington’s Red Top Cab has joined the taxi booking app Riide in an effort to win customers that might otherwise be wooed by the usability of Uber and Lyft.
The app, available on Apple, Android, and Microsoft phones, seems to work similarly to Uber and Lyft ride booking apps. Passengers can see exactly how far nearby drivers are, within 10 seconds of the cab’s latest location, and are given an estimated fare for trips.
The number of Red Top drivers has gone down by one-third since 2015, according to Kyle Summers, Red Top Cab’s new president. Prior to the disruption caused by the ride booking apps, Red Top had a seemingly never-ending supply of interested drivers said Summers, who joined Red Top Cab this month after leaving Irish transportation software company iCabbi.
“Uber and Lyft, they’ve done great things for the industry,” he said. “They’ve made it so that taxicab companies have to act better. The taxicab companies did this to themselves, to be honest… For us, we need to be able to provide the right tools to get drivers to want to drive for us and for customers to want to use us.”
Both Summers and Von Pelot, the local cab company’s sales and marketing director for the past 26 years, said they hope that the new app would be an improvement over the older, dedicated Red Top app and would help them better compete with Uber and Lyft.
One area where Red Top still has a disadvantage, according to the executives, is in existing regulations that apply to cabs but not to ride hailing companies. While Uber and Lyft drivers can sign up and drive sometimes within 24 hours, Red Top Cab drivers have to sometimes wait three months to begin driving, while undergoing training, background checks and other regulatory hurdles.
The regulatory challenge is something that Summers hopes to tackle to persuade drivers to work for the company.
Riide, which started in the United Kingdom and is expanding to parts of the U.S., aims to allow users to book taxi rides from local companies without needing to change apps.
Pelot said that he believed that the app would be a great benefit for riders because of the “broader base of affiliations” that Red Top can use to fulfill customer’s needs. He used the example of an Arlington rider traveling to Manassas and being able to use the app to schedule both the trip there and back.
The company’s current Red Top Cab app will be discontinued as operations shift to Riide.
Note: An earlier version of the article stated that the number of Red Top drivers had gone down by two-thirds since 2015.
Red Top Cab’s executive misspoke during an interview when asked how many drivers they had lost since 2015. The company has lost one-third since 2015, and have retained two-thirds of their drivers, not vice-versa.
The long-time Red Top Cab maintenance facility in Clarendon is now idle.
No longer are taxicabs busy coming and going from the facility, which is located along N. Hudson Street, just back from Clarendon’s main strip of bars. The facility’s parking lot, meanwhile, is largely empty.
Red Top spokesman Von Pelot said the company has moved maintenance to Falls Church as a cost-cutting measure.
“Half of the offices at Hudson Street were unused and we had additional capacity for maintenance at our shop in Falls Church, where painting and body repairs have always been done,” Pelot tells ARLnow.com. “It was not economical to carry the operating expenses of occupying a building we don’t really need.”
As recently as 2012 Red Top was seeking new taxi licenses from the county in an effort to expand its fleet. Pelot acknowledged that app-based ride services like Uber and Lyft have significantly curtailed its business.
“With the unfettered competition from unregulated cab substitute companies, we decided to cost costs by relocating staff to other available space,” he said. Red Top’s headquarters, however, is remaining at 3251 Washington Blvd, a block away from the maintenance facility.
Hat tip to Mike K.
A planned redevelopment project in Clarendon has yet to have its groundbreaking.
It was nearly two years ago that the Arlington County Board approved developer Shooshan Company’s plan for a two-phase redevelopment of the Red Top Cab headquarters in Clarendon. Billed as an “ambitious redevelopment,” the project will replace low-slung commercial buildings and surface parking lots with up to 580 housing units and 3,477 square feet of retail space while significantly reshaping the western end of Clarendon.
As of today, it is still business as usual at Red Top Cab, which promised to continue serving Arlington after it eventually moves its headquarters. No construction equipment or other signs of progress are visible.
A Shooshan executive did not respond to a request for comment. A Red Top Cab rep said that “work is still being done on development plans.”
Arlington’s Red Top Cab, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2014, has unveiled a new look for its taxicabs.
The new Red Top paint job for its fleet of Ford Fusion cabs is black with a red stripe. It’s the first color scheme change in the company’s history.
“We aimed for a look that is crisp and contemporary,” said Red Top Marketing Director Von Pelot. In a press release, the company said other changes are helping it to compete with its bitter rival: international tech darling Uber.
The changes at Red Top Cab are more than skin deep. Red Top now offers its customers the choice of two apps, both of which have features not found in the larger “rideshare” company’s app. The Red Top Cab apps allow customers to make advance reservations in addition to booking a ride for right away. Red Top says that this feature means that when passengers are ready to go, they don’t have to wait for their ride — their ride is waiting for them.
Red Top said it recently received approval from Arlington County to make the color change.
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]