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The city wants to boost for-hire vehicle occupancy rates, while also improving low-income residents’ access to transportation and reducing traffic congestion.
WASHINGTON — Only 40 percent of the taxis and ride-hailing vehicles in the District of Columbia are occupied at any given time, ever since services like Uber and Lyft gained popularity, according to City Hall.
Car subscriptions and Google’s self-driving taxi service—under development in Mountain View, California—are likely to transform the transportation ecosystem even further in coming years. So, district officials say they want to start now to help fill the seats of the vehicles on the road, while also helping provide better transportation options for low-income residents.
The idea is to create a transportation-as-a-service model for taxis and ride-hailing drivers to tap into and provide discounted options for eligible residents, said Ernest Chrappah, Department of For-Hire Vehicles director.
Washington has 106,000 residents living below the poverty line and thousands of others spending more than 65 percent of their income on transportation, he said.
“The mayor has been making investments to help our communities be more livable and to prime D.C. for the future,” Chrappah told Route Fifty. “Mobility at its core enables people to go to work and be productive members of a community; it promotes independent living.”
A grant earmarked by Mayor Muriel Bowser will fund a TaaS pilot with prospective partners like taxi cab companies and Uber by the end of 2018, he added.
The pilot framework involves establishing a single access point for qualified residents to book and pay for the nearest for-hire vehicle at an affordable rate for travel within city limits.
To start, eligible individuals will be low-income or those in need of transportation to medical appointments, such as people with disabilities and seniors. Later service will be expanded to those who currently spend more than 65 percent of their disposable income on travel, Chrappah said.
Lyft has previously agreed to subsidize fares on trips to and from transit stops in Centennial, Colorado—helping alleviate that city’s first-mile, last-mile problems—so the district might pursue a similar agreement here.
A mobile phone won’t be necessary to book rides, but many of the same on-demand options should be available.
“That’s one of the fundamental issues we’re trying to tackle … the technology barrier,” Chrappah said.
During and after the pilot, users will be surveyed to determine if their health outcomes have improved or if they’ve missed doctor visits.
In terms of quantitative data, the district expects to able to predict how many cars an expansion of TaaS might get off the road—reducing congestion. The city will also keep track of the number of trips made and economic impacts like the rise in incomes of participating drivers.
“If they make $30,000 annually and see their income boost by $500 to $1,000, then we can say we’ve made progress in drivers’ [economic opportunities on top of] health and other social outcomes,” Chrappah said.
Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.
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