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Petition hopes to end DC’s food delivery desert east of Anacostia River

More fast-food companies have been offering delivery by teaming up with food ordering apps, many of which charge fees or other added-on costs. The chains see delivery as another way to boost sales; but for customers, delivery can turn a typically cheap meal into a pricier one. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
App-based meal delivery services leave out a part of the city

WTOP's Rachel Nania

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UPDATE 4/26/2018 8:35 a.m.: In response to D.C. resident Latoya Watson’s petition, both Postmates and Caviar have announced they are expanding their delivery services in the District to include Wards 7 and 8.

On April 25, 2018, a Caviar spokesperson said, “After hearing from diners, we turned on delivery service to Wards 7 and 8 earlier this week. We look forward to exploring other ways to engage with District residents and businesses as we continue to expand our service in the D.C. area.”

Postmates announced its decision to expand delivery services on April 23, 2018.

WASHINGTON — Craving Thai for dinner? What about Korean barbecue from that new downtown restaurant? Either way, you can have it all delivered to your door with the click of a button using one of several meal delivery services that operate in D.C. — unless you live east of the Anacostia River.

But an online petition launched by 31-year-old Ward 7 resident Latoya Watson hopes to change that. Her campaign on the platform Spendrise calls for popular food delivery companies — including Caviar, Postmates and DoorDash — to expand their delivery services to include all of D.C., most notably Wards 7 and 8.

According to census data from D.C.’s Office of Planning, Wards 7 and 8 have the highest percentage of black residents 94.9 percent and 93.5 percent, respectively. 

“Communities of color, especially the east-of-the-river communities, have just been underserved and neglected for so long, and that’s not OK,” said Watson, who lives in the River Terrace neighborhood of Southeast D.C.

“If we don’t speak up, that neglect will continue to happen.”

Watson said the petition, which she posted on April 4, is something she has wanted to do for a long time. A previous Facebook post of hers caught the eye of Spendrise CEO Eric Shih, who reached out to her offering his help. But it was Tim Carman’s April 2 article in The Washington Post on the same subject that gave her the final nudge she needed.

In the article, Carman spoke with a resident in the Benning neighborhood of Northeast D.C., also east of the river, who couldn’t get Domino’s or Pizza Hut delivered to her home.

There are currently three grocery stores servicing Wards 7 and 8 combined; most areas of the city average six grocery stores per ward. Watson said in an area of the city already deemed a food desert, it’s frustrating.

“There’s nowhere we can walk to go to the grocery store. … You have people in these communities where maybe they’re disabled, maybe they’re older and they can’t walk anywhere either, so a food delivery service is exactly what people like that need,” she said, adding that Uber Eats does deliver to the area and gets good business because of that.

So far, the petition has received nearly 500 signatures and more than 100 comments from residents all over the city, which, Watson said, have been especially supportive.

“What’s really cool is seeing people on the other side of the river saying, ‘Hey, I didn’t know this was happening. How can I help? This is not right. If you’re going to serve D.C., you need to serve all of D.C.’”

There is no specific number of signatures Watson is looking to collect; what she wants to see is change from the delivery companies.

“I just want to have the Postmates, Caviar, Doordash, Grubhubs of the world to just listen and see that there are potential customers that you have, and if you don’t respond, then you’re losing out on real dollars, real money here,” Watson said.

In an email, a DoorDash spokesperson told WTOP that the company is constantly seeking to improve its services and “expand its footprint” in D.C.

“For example, we began our expansion into Ward 7 and now cover nearly 90 percent of the addresses north of Pennsylvania Avenue,” the spokesperson said.

“As we consider expanding to additional markets, key considerations include operational logistics (such as traffic and the availability of Dashers) and restaurant availability. When DoorDash launches in a new market, it is common to have a gradual rollout across neighborhoods and surrounding suburbs. Based on a variety of factors, including restaurant density, we are able to expand our coverage areas.” (Read the full statement below.) 

Postmates and Caviar did not respond to WTOP’s request for comment.

At the end of the day, however, Watson said it’s not just about food. Other urban app-based conveniences, such as bike-sharing and car-sharing services, aren’t as equally available on both sides of the river. (Both Capital Bikeshare and Car2Go service all of D.C., but concentration is lacking in certain areas of the city.)

“And this is bigger than D.C.; this happens everywhere,” Watson said.

“Technology promises a better future. But you have to ask: Who’s that better future going to? A better future for who? … We just can’t afford to allow technology to leave out our communities.”


Full statement from DoorDash:

DoorDash is constantly seeking to improve its services and expand its footprint across DC. For example, we began our expansion into Ward 7 and now cover nearly 90 percent of the addresses north of Pennsylvania Avenue.

As we consider expanding to additional markets, key considerations include operational logistics (such as traffic and the availability of Dashers) and restaurant availability. When DoorDash launches in a new market, it is common to have a gradual rollout across neighborhoods and surrounding suburbs. Based on a variety of factors, including restaurant density, we are able to expand our coverage areas.

Today, we are in 650 cities and we are working to triple the geographies in which DoorDash is available this year. We look forward to continuing to expand our footprint to bring DoorDash to every neighborhood in every city.


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