- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 8, 2018

Ridesharing company Via this week expanded to 24/7 service and doubled the number of D.C. neighborhoods where users can order rides, worrying cabdrivers who face increased competition.

“This is part of a big push we’re making in the D.C. market to be available to folks,” Via General Manager Alex Lavoie told The Washington Times.

The ridesharing company entered the D.C. market in 2016, and until this week, users previously could ride only during commuting hours along Metro’s Red line.

Now Via offers 24/7 ride hailing and operates from Cathedral Heights to American University, Forest Hills to Tenleytown, and in Petworth, as well as parts of the Southwest waterfront.

Taxi drivers worry this expansion will edge out more of the District’s 4,500 cabbies, who are outnumbered 2-to-1 by rideshare drivers, according to the D.C. Taxi Operators Association.

“It does affect us because D.C. taxis are regulated and they have to follow certain regulations, but all these [rideshare drivers] are free to charge their own fares,” said Eartha Clarke, a D.C. cabdriver for 25 years and an organizer affiliated with the union. “It’s just like someone starts the race when the other person is already gone.”

Like rideshare drivers, taxi drivers pays for their vehicles’ maintenance and gas. Unlike rideshare drivers, D.C. taxicab operators also pay a $149.50 fee for an exam and an FBI background check, a $275 annual licensing fee, city income taxes and the cost for painting their vehicles in the District’s standard taxi red.

“How can drivers compete with a millionaire company that doesn’t have the same regulations?” said Ms. Clarke.

In some ways, Via operates more like a bus than a taxi. Unlike other rideshare firms like Lyft or Uber, Via users walk to points near them to help optimize the number of people who can share a ride, which helps drive down costs.

“We have created a map of virtual bus stops throughout the city and will direct you to a virtual bus stop near you,” said Mr. Lavoie. “The core of VIA is a powerful algorithm that helps predict where those routes will be.”

Still, in many ways Via drivers are able to make more money in the sharing economy than taxi drivers can.

“We believe that drivers deserve to keep a very significant portion that they earn,” Mr. Lavoie said.

And Via drivers do, because in addition to not paying taxi licensing fees, they also pay only a 10 commission to Via instead of the 25 percent that Lyft or Uber charges. With the Via app’s preference for bundling rides together, the rideshare firm’s fares tend to be lower than those for taxis and other ridesharing operations in the District.

“There is nothing that can happen to make us compete until the regulations are enforced on them as well,” said Ms. Clarke.

There are reasons other than cost for people forgoing cabs, however.

One Via user, 26-year-old journalist Tajha Chappellet-Lanier, told The Times she rarely uses taxis, not because of money, but because ridesharing is handier.

“While taxis are plentiful in [the District], depending on where you are and what time of day it is, flagging one down might not be so much more convenient than finding the best nearby bus line,” Ms. Chappellet-Lanier said in a message on social media.

Ms. Chappellet-Lanier said that when she hails a ride with Via, it’s usually to travel between her home in Adams Morgan and downtown, so the company’s geographic expansion didn’t affect her much. However, the increased service hours did “open up opportunities” for more rides, she said.

“I like to think about Via as part of a transportation tool kit along with my bike, bus, metro, etc so any expansion just provides me [and other users] with more options,” she said. “And that seems like a good thing!”

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