‘Another winter:’ DC-area cab drivers feel pinch of COVID-19 pandemic

Despite many people taking advantage of being outdoors, taxi drivers in the D.C. area are feeling the pinch of the coronavirus pandemic.

Cars on the roads include taxis here and there — but they’re definitely not everywhere these days.

One driver for United Ventures Consortium, one of the largest taxicab companies in D.C., said business took a downward turn a little before President Donald Trump declared a national emergency due to the COVID-19.

D.C. cab drivers say that the coronavirus pandemic are leading to hardships among drivers. (WTOP/Liz Anderson)

Eight days after the declaration, taxi driver Gedle Asayehegn drove through some of the routes he frequently took before the pandemic — down Wisconsin Avenue and through Georgetown.

“At this moment for a taxi driver, it is zero income. You could say up to, maybe, one fare, two fares, but for taxi drivers at this moment, it’s at a scale of depression. That’s how much it is bad,” Asayehegn said.

Those couple of fares could show up in one seven-hour stretch.

There were very few taxis along his typical route, even though for some cab drivers it is their sole source of income.

“That’s why you don’t see any cab drivers now because everybody gave up. They’re home. There’s nothing, nobody to pick up. On this street the hotels are empty, all the offices are empty. There’s nothing,” he said.

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During the drive, there were no sightings of anyone hailing a cab, and the taxis that were around were empty.

How does Asayehegn plan to make ends meet?

“Well … credit cards,” he said. “We’ll see how far those go. That’s a fact for many. Saved money, credit cards or whatever other means, but zero income at this time, for everyone.”

At this time of the year in the D.C. area, there would be increased traffic and tourism, due to warmer temperatures, spring break and the cherry blossom season, which means more fares for cabs.

“This is another winter for taxi drivers. It’s not a spring,” Asayehegn said.

Earlier this week, Metro announced that it was closing the Smithsonian and Arlington National Cemetery stations. On Sunday, road closures were put in place along the Tidal Basin to deter people from coming to see the cherry blossoms and to encourage social distancing.

Moreover, several events in the National Cherry Blossom Festival have been canceled.

Asayehegn said UVC is trying to help drivers “maybe with decreased rental fees, and things like that. But there isn’t much they can do. Such problems can be alleviated with, maybe, some type of government assistance.”

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