Perry Stein reports that D.C. Taxicab Commissioner Ron Linton has proposed a new, regulated van system to help residents in Wards 7 & 8 get around:
Vans would take people anywhere from two to 20 blocks for a fixed rate of $5 or $6, with specific boundaries dictating where they could operate. The idea is that these vans would be used to take people—multiple people at once—to the nearby grocery store or a friend’s house in places where it’s nearly impossible to hail a cab. In addition to east-of-the-river neighborhoods, the vans may also operate in parts of wards 5 and 6 and even around upper 16th Street NW, where there are service gaps.
How have people been shopping for groceries in these neighborhoods before Ron Linton offered a helping hand? Certainly not the the taxis he is charged with regulating, as they often refuse to pick up black customers or drive to locations east of the Anacostia River.
If you’ve ever been to a grocery store east of Rock Creek Park you may have had someone ask you if you need help with your groceries, or if you need a ride home. These mostly-older men are informally known as courtesy drivers. They drive people home and help carry groceries to the door in exchange for small tips ranging from $3-$10. They’ve been a part of the private transportation infrastructure in D.C.’s neighborhoods for decades. My own neighborhood Safeway at 1601 Maryland Avenue Northeast usually has three to four courtesy drivers waiting in front of the store during busy hours. They seem to do swift business, particularly with elderly customers who might otherwise find it difficult to do their own shopping.
Unsurprisingly, this well-functioning system has recently been under attack by none other than Ron Linton and his D.C. Taxicab Commission. Last week WJLA reported that DCTC inspectors are targeting courtesy drivers and handing out thousands of dollars in fines.
D.C.’s less-affluent neighborhoods aren’t underserved despite the Taxicab Commissions, but because of them. After decades of neglect and absence of taxi service, the very least they could do is not undermine community members’ attempts to provide useful transportation services to each other.