Editor’s Note: The following article first appeared in the ARLnow Press Club weekend newsletter. Thank you to Press Club members for helping to fund our in-depth local features.
The phone rings on a stormy afternoon in Halls Hill and 92-year-old Hartman Reed swivels in his chair to answer it.
“Hello, Crown Cab,” he says.
Reed first started working for the long-running cab company back in 1958 as one of the first Black cab drivers in Arlington. He picked up customers in a Chevy. Today, more than six decades later, he owns the company, making it one of two Black-owned cab companies in Arlington.
Reed had a second notable job as well. He was also a firefighter at famed Fire Station No. 8 in Halls Hill. It’s believed he was one of the first paid Black firefighters south of the Mason-Dixon line.
“As I grow older, I now know how important it was to be first at things,” Reed tells ARLnow. “I now know what we did made it possible for others behind us to advance.”
For decades, Halls Hill had only a volunteer firefighter department. Even when the county started allocating money to other neighborhoods to pay their first responders in 1940, Arlington declined to do the same for Halls Hill. What’s more, fire companies in surrounding neighborhoods would not come into Halls Hill to provide help.
Finally, in the early 1950s, the county provided money to Halls Hill to hire professional firefighters. Reed, straight out of the Navy, was one of the first hired, starting on the job in 1952 at Fire Station No. 8.
He remains extremely proud of not just the work he and his fellow Halls Hill firefighters did, but the reputation they earned in the community.
“Just because we were Black, we were looked at as people who didn’t have the courage to go in and fight fires,” he says. “We had to prove ourselves. In most cases, I’d say we were outstanding as a company because we wanted to prove that we were as good or better than any other company.”
Fire fighting wasn’t the only community need where Jim Crow reared its ugly head in Arlington in the mid-20th century. In an era there were fewer people had cars, cabs were neighborhood necessities. However, many white-owned Arlington companies would not pick up customers in Arlington’s Black communities like Johnson’s Hill, Halls Hill, and Green Valley.
In 1958, fellow Fire Station No. 8 firefighter Buster Moten started Crown Cab and hired Reed as his first driver. It’s believed he was one of the first Black cab drivers in Arlington.
For about 16 years, Reed was both a firefighter and a cab driver but he says the two jobs went hand-in-hand. For one, being a cab driver helped him “learn the territory.”
“You have to know where places are when a [fire] call comes in. You can’t be hunting around,” he says. “As a cab driver, you got to know the county a lot better.”
Cabs were also there for emergencies, like hospital visits, particularly since Arlington’s Black residents were often not allowed to go to the hospital closest by.
The Arlington County Board is considering two changes to help alleviate challenges facing the local taxicab industry.
The Board will consider allowing taxi companies to charge customers a temporary $1 fee due to rising gas prices. At the same time, it will separately consider increasing the number of years a vehicle may be used as a taxi.
Both items before the Board could go to a vote on May 14, dependant on a vote to advertise that date at this Saturday’s meeting.
If approved, the $1 surcharge per trip could be implemented for the six months between June 1 through Nov. 30, 2022.
“Gas prices have increased in the past year and substantially within the past month due to global unrest and macroeconomic factors,” according to a county report. “This is increasing operating costs for taxicab drivers.”
The county sets the fare rate for cabs on a biennial basis but the next analysis of the rate isn’t until 2023. But out-of-cycle amendments can be made with County Board approval.
The last time the rate was set, in 2016, it cost $3 for the start of the trip and $2.16 per mile after that, according to the report. Since, gas prices have risen to around $4.50 per gallon in the D.C. area. Other jurisdictions have enacted similar surcharges, with the District implementing a $1 surcharge for 120 days, and Fairfax County doing the same for two months ending June 11.
The County Board is also looking to increase the maximum age of taxi vehicles, which is currently capped at 10 years. The age cap change would depend on the type of vehicle.
From a report to the County Board:
- Increase the maximum model-year age for service from ten (10) years to twelve (12) years for gasoline-only powered non-wheelchair accessible vehicles;
- Increase the maximum model-year age for service from ten (10) years to fifteen (15) years for wheelchair accessible vehicles; and
- Increase the maximum model-year age for service from ten (10) years to fifteen (15) years for hybrid, plug-in hybrid and/or electric vehicles.
If you’ve noticed fewer taxicabs on the road in Arlington, it’s not just your imagination.
Facing continued competition from companies like Uber and Lyft, the number of taxis authorized to operate in the county has decreased to 477 from 847 in 2017. Vehicles used for ride-sharing apps, dubbed Transportation Network Companies, are allowed to operate for longer, at 14 years and 16 years, than those that are operated through the six Arlington cab companies.
“This difference puts an inequitable cost burden on taxi operators to replace their vehicles more frequently than their TNC counterparts,” the report says.
The report also points to the importance of the cab fleet in providing service as part of the Specialized Transit for Arlington Residents (STAR) paratransit program. Out of the 477 currently authorized vehicles, 39 are wheelchair accessible, the report says.
The Transportation Commission has already recommended the Board adopt the life-span changes and gas surcharge following public hearings. Both ordinance changes were requested by taxicab companies that operate in Arlington, including Crown, Hess, Friendly, Red Top, Arlington Yellow, and Blue Top Cab.
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.”
Prosecutor Files Petition Against Judges — “A northern Virginia prosecutor who says her county’s judges are infringing on her discretion to dismiss charges and enter plea bargains is asking the state Supreme Court to intervene on her behalf. Arlington County Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti filed a petition Friday asking the court for a relief from a policy imposed by the county’s four Circuit Court judges.” [Associated Press]
New BBQ Pop-Up Coming to Pentagon City — “In their spare time [chefs Kevin Tien and Scott Chung] dreamed up Wild Tiger BBQ, which launches Thursday, August 20 next to Bun’d Up at Pentagon Row in Arlington. The pop-up will run Thursday through Saturday for the first few weeks.” [Washingtonian]
‘Bumper Crop of Mosquitos’ — “With the floods of summer come the pests of summer — bloodsucking mosquitoes. It takes several days to a couple of weeks for mosquitoes to hatch, molt and fly out of floodwater, but the swarms eventually arrive, in greater numbers than before the flood. After the recent flooding from thunderstorms and Tropical Storm Isaias in the Washington region, a bumper crop of mosquitoes has emerged.” [Washington Post]
Retired Colonel Helps With COVID Response — “When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early March, retired U.S. Air Force Colonel David Ashley quickly found his planned spring and summer mountain climbing trips canceled. He spent about a week doing projects around his Arlington home, but after 27 years in the military, he realized he need something else, something with more purpose.” [Arlington County]
Cab Exec’s Offensive Post Makes Headlines — “An elected town council member in Strasburg, Va., who also is chairman of the 6th Congressional District’s Republican Committee admitted this week that he posted, then removed, a sexually offensive meme targeted at Sen. Kamala D. Harris… [John] Massoud, who is vice president of Arlington’s Blue Top taxi service and was an unsuccessful candidate against ex-Del. Bob Brink for a House of Delegates seat from Arlington in 1997 and 1999, moved to the Shenandoah Valley about 10 years ago.” [Washington Post]
Analysis of Rents Near Metro Stations — “The most expensive rents ($2,200 and up) are found in areas of Arlington and Washington, DC. Rent near the Ballston-MU station is in the mid-range among DC Metro stops. But while the median price increased near Court House, it decreased near Ballston-MU, according to the analysis. The median rent for a one-bedroom unit near Ballston-MU is $1,975, a 1.3 percent decrease from 2019.” [Patch]
Clement Rips Dems for Redistricting Stance — “An independent candidate for Arlington County Board has criticized the Arlington County Democratic Committee for its opposition to a nonpartisan-redistricting constitutional amendment on the state ballot in November. Audrey Clement, who is challenging incumbent Democrat Libby Garvey for County Board, said the Democrats’ vote seems disingenuous for a party that claims to be about good government.” [InsideNova]
Arlington Makes Top Travel Destination List — “For all the talk of a move to small, less densely populated destinations, Hotwire also ranked much bigger cities. Its ‘midsize must see’ picks were St. Louis; Tampa, Florida; Atlanta; Arlington, Virginia; Tucson, Arizona; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Virginia Beach, Virginia; Pittsburgh; Miami; and Cincinnati.” [CNBC]
A taxi driver was stabbed by a man in Westover earlier this week, according to Arlington County Police, in a seemingly random attack.
The alleged stabbing happened around 2 a.m. Tuesday, on the 1600 block of McKinley Road. Police say the assailant — the passenger in a cab — stabbed the driver after he completed his trip.
The victim brought himself to the hospital with “minor injuries.” The suspect fled the scene and is currently being sought by police.
Police told ARLnow last night that no arrests have been made so far. The crime is not believed to be connected to Sunday’s stabbing in the Westover area, a spokeswoman said.
More from ACPD:
MALICIOUS WOUNDING (late), 2019-12100133, 1600 block of McKinley Road. At approximately 1:08 p.m. on December 10, police were dispatched to the late report of a stabbing. Upon arrival, it was determined that at approximately 2:06 a.m., the victim was operating as a taxi driver, completed a trip and parked his vehicle to allow the passenger to exit. Upon doing so, the passenger produced a knife, reached into the front seat and struck the victim multiple times, causing lacerations. A brief struggle ensued before the suspect fled the scene on foot. The victim sustained minor injuries and later sought treatment at an area hospital and subsequently reported the incident to police. The suspect is described as a white male, approximately 5’6″, 180-200 lbs., with curly black hair, wearing gray sweatshirt and khaki pants. The investigation is ongoing.
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)
(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 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.
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
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?”
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]
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!