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Coming For You Uber! D.C. Cab Companies Closer To Launching E-Hailing App

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The DC Taxi app makes it as easy to get a cab as it is to e-hail an Uber or Lyft.
Chris Chester/WAMU
The DC Taxi app makes it as easy to get a cab as it is to e-hail an Uber or Lyft.

Washington is close to becoming the second major city in the U.S. to launch an e-hail app for its taxi industry.

The app, named DC Taxi, is in its third round of testing, and the District’s top taxi regulator expects it to launch by the end of the year. The testing is open; anyone with a smartphone can download the app and order a ride. More than a thousand cabbies have used it, but so far they’ve received fewer than a thousand rides.

Lack of participation is one reason the seven cab companies managing the app in a co-op, in consultation with the D.C. Taxicab Commission, need more time to work out any glitches and add or delete certain features based on customer feedback.

“Fundamentally, the app will be able to help a passenger connect to a D.C. licensed, insured driver,” said Ernest Chrappah, the commission’s chairman. “And more importantly, for those who have a need for wheelchair-accessible transportation options, we are bringing to the market a compelling proposition. They will be able to hail a wheelchair-accessible vehicle and get service in a reasonable timeframe.”

The DC Taxi app should look familiar to anyone who use other e-hailing app.

The D.C. taxi industry is playing catch up, given the fact Uber, Lyft, and other on-demand transportation apps have been on the streets for years, raising the public’s expectations for the quality of personal transport service.

The District’s app will offer many of the features now considered standard in the industry, including the ability to rate drivers and pay with a credit card number stored in the app. But it will also give customers the option of paying inside the cab with either cash or an actual credit card swipe. And, as Chrappah said, there will be a platform for ordering a van with a wheelchair ramp, a service neither Uber nor Lyft currently offers in the Washington region.

“The feedback has been great, but we are not going to stop at that because in an evolving marketplace where you have to come up with new functionalities every six weeks, we don’t want to rest on our laurels,” said Chrappah.

The District’s cab drivers — generally unhappy with the rise of lightly regulated Uber — may look to the D.C. Taxi app as a tool to help them compete, but Chrappah cautioned it will not be a cure-all.

“Being able to deliver service, being courteous to your customers, being able to assist tourists… is what is going to distinguish the public vehicle for hire operators from the competition, and that is where the focus will be,” said Chrappah.

Abdullahi Ahmed, a cabbie for 25 years, is excited about the app’s potential. He recently downloaded it, and his first ride was with a WAMU reporter.

When asked if the app will help him compete with Uber, Ahmed responded, “Definitely! Definitely it will help us compete with Uber. We are professional cab drivers and we know the rules and regulations.”

Since the UberX platform began advertising discount rides, Ahmed said his income has dropped about 35 or 40 percent. The DC Taxi app needs a big marketing campaign to plant it in the heads of the riding public, he said.

“My impression is it is very good. I love it. This is the only way we can compete with Uber or Lyft,” said Ahmed, who said he welcomed the feature that lets riders rate drivers.

“That is part of our job. We have to be nice and good for the customers. That is how we make a living.”

After the reporter’s trip ended, the function that allows digital credit card payments did not work, so the reporter swiped his actual credit card through the backseat console. The pay-through-the-app feature is not ready yet, Ahmed explained.

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