Arlington, VA

Taxicabs are becoming an increasingly less common sight on the streets of Arlington County.

After reaching a high of 847 in 2017, the number of authorized taxis in Arlington continues to fall precipitously. Over the past two years, the number of taxis authorized at the county’s three largest cab companies — Red Top, Yellow Cap and Blue Top — has dropped by a third.

In all, there are now 542 cabs authorized in Arlington, including 39 wheelchair-accessible cabs, as of March. That number, however, is almost certainly higher than the actual number of cabs on the road.

The taxi industry has been devastated by the popularity of ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft. In 2016, ARLnow reported that dispatched cab trips, the predominant measure of taxi activity in the county, plummeted by a third — from 2.6 million to 1.7 million annually — between 2013 and 2015.

Two local cab company, All Access Cab and Envirocab, have gone out of business since 2017.

File photo (top), table via Arlington County (bottom)

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(Updated 10:05 a.m.) Arlington will soon release the results of a study on whether Uber and Lyft should replace some bus routes in certain areas of the county.

At the end of May officials are expected to conclude its “Parameters Study for Zone-Based Demand-Responsive (Flex) Transit Service,” per a county spokesman. The study will help officials weigh whether ride-hailing companies can replace some bus service in areas experiencing low bus ridership.

Ride-hailing services could connect riders heading to and from those areas with the nearest Metro station.

Taxi companies and paratransit providers are also being floated as possible service providers, county transportation spokesman Eric Balliet told ARLnow yesterday (Tuesday).

“We’re in the research phase right now, so no decisions have been made about [the] number of providers or where vehicles would pick up passengers,” Balliet said. “These would be looked at if we decide to move forward with this service concept.”

The areas being considered for this are identified in the county’s Transit Development Plan, which was approved in 2016:

  • The Douglas Park, Nauck, and Arlington Village neighborhoods which the plan aims to connect to transit along Columbia Pike.
  • The Rock Spring, Williamsburg Middle School, and Dominion Hills areas, which currently see only 10 passengers per hour on the ART 53 route. Those neighborhoods would be connected to the East Falls Church Metro station.
  • The Chain Bridge Forest, Rivercrest, Bellevue Forest, Gulf Branch, and Stafford-Albermarle-Glebe neighborhoods, which also only see 10 passengers per hour on the ART 53 route. Those neighborhoods would be connected to the Ballston Metro station.

“Each trip must either originate or end at that chosen destination,” the plan says. “This service will use smaller vehicles that may not be operated by or under the banner of ART and could include a separate fare system. Rides would be grouped and provided on a demand responsive basis.”

“In Arlington County there are several low-density neighborhoods which are served by low-frequency, low-ridership, costly-to-operate bus routes,” a 2018 description of the study says. “In these areas, it may be easier and cheaper to provide on-demand private-vehicle service for people needing to get to Arlington’s business and shopping districts than continuing to provide bus service.”

The county “sees this project as a potential model for other places which are facing similar issues with their bus systems,” said the study’s description.

County Manager Mark Schwartz said in a 2016 statement that the county’s “goal is to review a possible way to encourage transit ridership, increase efficiency and reduce costs,” and added that the county “must overcome many challenges and answer many questions before we could consider implementing this proposal.”

Montgomery County, Maryland is planning to test a similar transit program this summer where residents can request a shuttle pick-up using the Via app, WTOP reported.

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Passengers arriving at Reagan National Airport can expect some more construction-related changes to the lower, baggage claim level at Terminal B/C.

Starting today (Monday), exit doors at either end of the terminal will be closed to allow for additional work, airport officials announced last week. DCA is in the midst of its massive “Project Journey,” an effort to construct a new security screening area and a new gate for regional flights, replacing the “35X” gate.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority says this latest work won’t affect taxi, rideshare and private vehicle pickups, which will still be available at doors four through nine.

Workers will close doors at the ends of the terminal gradually, but at the height of the work doors one through three and doors nine through 12 will be closed.

Taxi drivers, in particular, have already complained that the construction work is impacting their business, claiming the arrivals area is already a bit cramped as Ubers, Lyfts and taxis all jockey for passengers.

MWAA officials expect this latest work will take “several months,” and hope to move all construction inside the airport by sometime in the middle of the year. They don’t expect the project to wrap up in its entirety until sometime in 2021.

Photo via @Reagan_Airport

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Construction-related changes at one Reagan National Airport arrivals terminal have local taxi drivers fuming, and they argue airport officials are ignoring their complaints while catering to ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft.

Dozens of drivers serving the airport have begun leading protests outside Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority meetings in Crystal City, with the most recent demonstration coming last week, in order to force attention on the issue.

Backed by the National Airport Taxi Drivers Association and progressive organizers with New Virginia Majority, the drivers are urging the airport to change how it’s managing construction work that’s necessitated lane closures at its arrivals area for Terminals B/C. With less curb space available, they say taxis are getting squeezed out by Uber and Lyft drivers, with cabs unable to leave their taxi stands in a timely fashion due to the increased traffic.

“That’s not good for passengers or drivers, because we’re just sitting there with the meter running for 10, 15 minutes at a time,” said Tibebu Ergete, a longtime taxi driver and one of the organizers of the protests. “This is destroying our business.”

Ergete estimates that some drivers have seen as much as a 40 percent dip in earnings as they increasingly jockey for curb space with rideshare drivers, though he would concede that taxis have seen ridership declines for years now as Uber and Lyft have gained popularity.

Still, he’d rather see rideshare customers shuttled off the premises to meet their drivers, who already have to stage in a nearby parking lot as they wait to accept rides.

“We’ve given [the MWAA] plenty of options to deal with the construction,” Ergete said. “But they won’t listen to us. They only put Uber’s interests first.”

Christina Saull, a spokeswoman for the MWAA, said airport officials are trying to balance the competing demands of everyone impacted by the construction, and said the “dialogue is ongoing” about how to improve arrival conditions. However, she would say that the MWAA does not see shuttling rideshare users elsewhere as a workable solution, arguing that “we don’t see that as providing good customer service for anyone.”

“We’ve considered everything they’ve suggested,” Saull said. “But we have to weigh a multitude of preferences in this case. We’re moving a large volume of traffic through a really small area.”

Uber spokesman Colin Tooze wrote in a statement that the construction means “the pickup experience at DCA is not an ideal one right now” but said his company in “regular dialogue” with the MWAA to ensure “ensure a smooth experience for riders and drivers.” Lyft spokeswoman Campbell Matthews wrote in a statement that “we are glad to work with officials at the airport on a pickup and drop off arrangement that works well for passengers, drivers and the airport.”

Saull also pointed out that taxi drivers already have double the curbside pickup space at the arrival terminal compared to rideshare drivers, and that the MWAA levies a higher fee on airport trips by Uber and Lyft than it does for taxis.

But Ergete believes the MWAA is still overly deferential to the companies, as demonstrated by the refusal by its Board of Directors to discuss these complaints at any of its meetings.

Saull is urging drivers and passengers alike to simply “hang with us until the middle of next year,” when construction work at National will move inside, and the arrival lanes will reopen. Yet Ergete fears the damage inflicted by the current setup may prove to be irreversible.

“Our concern is our future,” Ergete said. “If they destroy the taxi industry, what is going to happen to the public? What is going to happen to the drivers who have been there for 40, 50 years?”

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Morning Notes

Arlington Named Top Digital County Again — “Arlington County is the No. 1 digital county in the nation for a third straight year. The Center for Digital Government and National Association of Counties 2018 award recognizes Arlington for its best technology practices in areas of open government, transparency, public engagement, planning, cyber security and operations.” [Arlington County]

Robbery in Courthouse — Two men reportedly robbed the Dunkin’ Donuts on Wilson Blvd in Courthouse yesterday evening. The men demanded money and fled the scene with cash but did not display any weapons during the robbery, according to initial reports. [Twitter]

Kaine to Campaign in Arlington Today — Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) tonight “will host a ‘Neighbor to Neighbor’ community conversation in Arlington to engage Northern Virginia voters on the critical issues facing our country and take their questions.” The event is taking place at the Barcroft Park Picnic Shelter (4200 S. Four Mile Run Drive) at 6:30 p.m.

Britney Spears Touches Down in Arlington — Britney Spears arrived at Reagan National Airport ahead of the kick off of her summer tour. Photos and video show her walking through the terminal with a small entourage. [Daily Mail]

Arlington to Pay to Help Retain Federal Tenant — “Arlington taxpayers will be on the hook for nearly $8 million over 10 years to subsidize a lease that will retain the Office of Naval Research in the county. County Board members on July 14 are expected to approve an incentive package that will keep the federal agency in its current 314,000 square feet of office space in Ballston.” [InsideNova]

Suspect Hailed Cab After Pike Burglary — “A burglar made his getaway from a scene in Arlington by hailing a taxi, according to officials. The Arlington County Police Department said the burglar targeted a business in the 3100 block of Columbia Pike near the Westmont neighborhood at about 10:25 a.m. on Sunday.” [Fox 5 DC]

George Mason Drive Detour — A “small detour” will be in place this weekend on N. George Mason Drive “as crews above remove the old half still remaining from the soon-to-be-replaced Carlin Springs Road Bridge.” [Twitter]

White Ford Bronco Profiled — Prolific local 90s cover band White Ford Bronco is the subject of a newspaper profile that dubs it the “undisputed king of D.C. cover bands.” The profile recounts that “at a recent concert at the Clarendon Ballroom, guys in button-down shirts and Birkenstocks pumped their fists to the chorus of ‘Mr. Jones.'” [Washington Post]

Metrobus Delays This Morning — Metrobus passengers reported delays and missed routes this morning, which WMATA says was the result of “bus operators reporting late to work as part of a collective labor action by their union.” [Twitter, WTOP]

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Spring weather will soon catch up to the start of the season, which means people will be up for visiting new restaurants, shops, music venues and other entertainment options that Arlington has to offer.

For business owners, Sprynt provides innovative ways to advertise and literally drives customers to your location.

The overwhelming majority of Sprynt’s rider base consists of tech — savvy millennials with enough discretionary income to splurge every now and then. More than 13,000 people along the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor have downloaded the app, which introduces them to new places through advertisements, deals, coupons and other offers they can’t resist.

Beginning in 2018, advertisers now have the ability to reach Sprynt’s rider base via mobile push notifications, an invaluable marketing tool that is rarely ignored by recipients, unlike emails, banner ads and direct mail.

Sprynt is also introducing new ways for riders to engage with businesses during each of its 5,000+ rides per month. The interactive in — vehicle iPad advertising platform may now be supplemented with takeaway brochures, free product sample distribution and giveaways such as branded water.

Businesses will continue to have the opportunity to wrap Sprynt’s attention — grabbing vehicles, effectively allowing advertisers to reach pedestrians and on — lookers in the downtown Arlington community.

The Company has several exciting changes in store for riders as well, including a highly-anticipated expansion “down the hill” into the booming Rosslyn neighborhood. Sprynt will return for the Spring season on April 2, at which time riders may once again fire up the Sprynt app and begin requesting their free, on — demand rides around downtown Arlington.

Businesses interested in advertising with Sprynt are encouraged to visit their website (www.SpryntNow.com), which contains its media kit and a full list of advertising opportunities to meet any budget. Find out which option works best for your business as Spring kicks into gear!

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(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.

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A D.C. taxicab drove onto the Custis Trail yesterday and the incident was caught on video.

The taxi was seen driving onto the bike path Monday afternoon near the MOM’s Organic Market on Lee Highway. A passerby saw it happen and ran to make sure the driver, who was apparently lost, was able to safely get off the trail and back onto the road.

“I followed him right away to make sure he backs up,” said Wael Salha, who also took the video.

Salha says that he frequently uses the path and believes that a narrower trailhead and more car-blocking bollards could have prevented the driver from mistakenly turning onto the path.

“I always use that trail and I was really worried,” he said, adding that he’s not trying to get the driver in trouble.

“I hope that this will not affect the driver’s job,” he said. “This is not my intention, I was only concerned about the people’s safety and [want] more precaution on the county’s end.”

A V.I.P. Cab Company phone operator was unable to connect ARLnow.com to the driver with partial plate numbers, but was able to confirm that all cab drivers with V.I.P. are required to use G.P.S. while driving passengers. The operator added that normally the cab company stays within Washington, so the driver was in unfamiliar territory.

Photo (bottom) via Google Maps

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A free ride-hailing app in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor will be closed until April, according to a message posted when customers try to hail a car.

Sprynt launched in June, promising free rides along the corridor in electric vehicles that look a bit like a stretched-out golf cart with doors.

It initially offered short jaunts around a handful of Orange Line corridor neighborhoods, including Ballston, Virginia Square, Clarendon, Courthouse and Rosslyn. Within five days, the iOS app had over 700 downloads.

But when an ARLnow reporter tried to hail a ride today (Friday), a message popped up that the service is “not currently operating. Normal operating hours today are closed. We will be back in April 2018!”

Sprynt staff did not respond to requests for comment, and there is no mention of a closure on its social media accounts or website. Its last Facebook post touted free rides during the holiday season.

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Local all-hybrid taxi service Envirocab is no more.

A tipster reported calling the Columbia Pike-based company last week, but getting a message on the phone saying they were no longer in service.

Calls to the company this week yielded the same result, while its website is “Temporarily out of service.”

“We are sorry to inform you that this service is no longer in operation. Thank you,” the message said. Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman Ashley Savage said Envirocab closed on November 1.

The 50-cab service was sold in 2013 to transportation conglomerate Veolia Transportation, which operates more than 2,400 taxicabs around the country. It began in 2008, and back then was the first all-hybrid fleet in the country. Since then, hybrid cabs have become more commonplace among local taxi fleets.

A Yelp review of Envirocab posted last month complained that the “service continues to deteriorate” and that “the last two times I attempted to use Envirocab, they failed to show up.”

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Would you be willing to hear a quick sales pitch to get a free ride down Clarendon Blvd? If so a local startup is preparing to launch just the service for you.

Sprynt will be offering “free 100% electric on-demand rides around downtown Arlington” starting Wednesday, June 21, according to a Facebook post. The company’s electric vehicle — which looks a bit like a stretched-out golf cart with doors — was spotted rolling down the street in Clarendon Monday morning.

Rides will be booked on a soon-to-launch iPhone app and will initially be available for short jaunts around a handful of Orange Line corridor neighborhoods, including Ballston, Virginia Square, Clarendon, Courthouse and Rosslyn.

The rides will be free, with the company making money through advertising.

“Sprynt aims to provide an exciting, efficient, and eco-friendly method of transportation that strengthens communities by connecting residents to local businesses,” says the company’s website. “Our unique solution to the growing demand for alternative transportation is made possible through strategic advertising partnerships with local and national brands. These partnerships allow us to transport our passengers 100% free of charge!”

The website and a job listing for a “team driver” reveals more about the advertising model.

“Sprynt Team Drivers are responsible for transporting passengers safely while socializing with them and recommending our sponsored brands,” says the job listing. “Our drivers are brand ambassadors for our sponsors, educating passengers on our sponsors’ products and services.”

The company’s website shows a number of different “eco-friendly” advertising options for companies, including ads on an in-vehicle iPad, on its mobile app and wrapped around the vehicle. Drivers might also give away free samples to customers.

Photos via Facebook

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