D.C., Your Next UberX Driver Might Show up in a Taxicab

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post
A taxicab pulls up to a security fence seen surrounding the U.S. Capitol earlier this year in Washington.

The next time you call for an UberX, don’t be surprised if the driver arrives in a taxicab.

Uber announced a partnership Friday that would make D.C. cab rides more widely available on its app as the company expands a collaboration with its onetime foe. The effort comes as Uber is recovering from a nationwide driver shortage that, in recent years, has led to longer waits, higher fares and major rider frustrations.

The partnership should increase the number of rides available via Uber while giving the District’s roughly 1,500 taxi drivers access to a larger pool of fares, the company said. Uber already has established the program in New York, San Francisco and Southern California, where it says it has enlisted the help of taxi drivers to offer faster pickups at similar prices.

The collaboration could help the bottom lines of the city’s taxi drivers, who have endured a tumultuous two decades amid regulatory changes and declining demand from a public seeking app-based services.

Uber’s launch in 2009 brought significant disruption to the taxi industry. Years later, the pandemic shook the industry again with D.C.-area taxi trips plummeting by as much as 90 percent, according to data from regulators and companies, leaving thousands of drivers jobless.

“As we continue to see around the globe, when Uber and taxis partner, it’s a win for drivers, riders and the cities we both serve,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in a statement.

More than 90 percent of for-hire trips in the District are made by ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft, according to the city’s Department of For-Hire Vehicles, which oversees taxi and for-hire operations. In the past five years, the number of active taxi drivers in D.C. has dropped from about 5,000 to 1,500. Those who remain rely heavily on government-subsidized fares as street hails have nearly disappeared.

The Department of For-Hire Vehicles has supported Uber-taxi collaborations in recent years as it has sought ways to expand opportunities for taxi drivers. The agency didn’t provide comment on the new initiative announced Friday.

Kris Asayehegn, 58, a 30-year cabdriver in D.C., said he expects the UberX option to boost his earnings. His livelihood has survived by investing in a wheelchair-accessible vehicle and enrolling in a program that refers rides via UberWAV, the accessible trips Uber provides through its app. His cab is in high-demand on weekday mornings and afternoons, when wheelchair users take trips to medical appointments or run errands, but finding customers at other times is a challenge.

“It’s very rare to find a fare because there’s less people hailing on the streets,” he said. He said he expects UberX fares “will be good supplemental income. It’ll definitely help me a lot.”

Uber said it will notify taxi drivers Friday about how to take UberX trips, then many will become eligible within days.

Riders will be notified if they are matched with a taxi and will have a choice to cancel or rematch with another driver, Uber officials said. Riders who are matched with a taxi will pay the UberX rate.

The tech company already offers an Uber Taxi option that connects riders to taxicabs, but riders have to choose that tab and pay based on taxi meter fares.

An analysis by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency this fall found taxi drivers who provide Uber trips earn an average of $1,767 a month from those trips and earn, on average, 24 percent more in fare revenue than taxi drivers who didn’t sign up to provide Uber trips.

Earlier this month, Khosrowshahi cited strong demand trends and a record 6.5 million active drivers and couriers in the Uber platform who collectively earned nearly $16 billion the third quarter. The company said it hosted 2.44 billion trips during the period, up 25 percent compared to 2022.