DC-area cab drivers experience dramatic decrease in demand during coronavirus crisis

Difficult times for cab drivers as demand drops dramatically. This United Ventures Consortium cab driver’s name is Addis Abate. He’s been driving for more than six years, and he said he has never experienced anything like this. He has lost almost 75% of his daily income. (Courtesy Degfae Setegn)

Demand for cabs is down at least 70% at one of D.C.’s largest taxi cab companies amid concerns and changes of routine related to the coronavirus outbreak.

Most of the 2,500 drivers working for United Ventures Consortium Inc. (UVC) are independent contractors.

“They are in a very serious situation now, financially. Their income is day to day, and they don’t have any source of income other than this,” said UVC President Degfae Setegn.

Over the past two to three weeks, Setegn said driver income has decreased more than 70%.

Despite dramatic losses, drivers still are expected to pay monthly fleet fees that range between $800-$1,000 to cover expenses, such as insurance and car loan payments.

Setegn said there’s been no information from the District’s Department of For Hire Vehicles about drivers potentially receiving assistance.

The other potential resource for drivers and UVC as a small business is the federal government.

“If we get any assistance, we’ll pass it on to the drivers whereby they can at least survive this critical time,” Setegn said.

Mayor Muriel Bowser said Tuesday that D.C. businesses can apply for disaster assistance loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration. The low-interest loans of up to $2 million “may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that cannot be paid,” Bowser’s office said in a statement.

Work that is available for drivers comes with additional issues and responsibilities.

Here’s an excerpt from a recent UVC notice to drivers:

We remind you to increase your daily cleanings of your cars, regularly wash your hands, use hand sanitizer, and clean all your equipment as frequently as possible. We know that COVID-19 can live on surfaces for hours, so we strongly encourage you to clean any digital equipment with Clorox wipes after each transaction.

Lastly, if you are feeling sick at all or have been exposed to someone who is, we ask that you stay home and self-quarantine. It is the only way we can stop the spread of this virus and get back to life. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us.

UVC recently launched an app called ezRidr that does pickup and delivery (of people and items), either on-call or scheduled in advance.

Here’s what UVC’s app, ezRidr, looks like. It does pickup and delivery (of people and items), either on-call or scheduled in advance. (WTOP/Kristi King)

Much like ride-haling apps Uber and Lyft, the cab-based app shows the location of cars that are in service, has car identification so riders know which one is theirs, and lets users communicate with drivers before pickup or delivery.

WTOP’s Jack Pointer contributed to this report. 

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