April 30, 2019

4 Things We Learned About Ride-hailing (When Kojo Hailed A Ride)

By Margaret Barthel

Kojo with Kam, a college student who says he uses a mix of public transportation and ride-hailing to get around.

Kojo with Kam, a college student who says he uses a mix of public transportation and ride-hailing to get around.

Ride-hailing is a fact of life for many in the D.C. region. It’s catalyzed big changes in the way that some Washingtonians get from place to place–and the volume of traffic on the roads along the way.

We wanted to hear what people think about these services, why they use them and how they’ve changed the landscape of transportation in the region. So we sent Kojo out to ride around in a Lyft all day and interview the lucky (well, mostly shocked) people who hailed his car. Here’s what we heard:

 

  1. “How often do you take Lyft?” “Every day.”

Rider Kaliyma told Kojo that she uses ride-hailing services every day to get around the city, preferring the ease and privacy they offer to public transit or even having her own car. She’s clearly not alone: by some estimates, ride-hailing in the District more than quadrupled between 2015 and 2017. Another rider, Kam, told Kojo that he’s chosen a mix of public transit and ride-hailing services as his way to get around because he’d rather spend money on experiences instead of a fancy car, though there’s some debate over whether ride-hailing services are prompting any major change in car ownership.=

  1. “It’s made traffic a lot worse. Every car you see is a Lyft or Uber.”

Erin and Ben, who were visiting D.C. from Seattle (yes, we did ask them about Amazon, too) were actually referring here to Seattle–though this Washington has also seen increases in ride-hailing contribute to already-bad traffic, too. According to a report released last year, 70% of all Lyft and Uber rides happened in nine of the country’s most densely populated urban areas, including Seattle and Washington, for an increase of 5.6 billion miles driven annually. Even accounting for people like Kaliyma, who hail rides instead of owning a car, that’s a 180% increase in driving on city streets.  

  1. “This is more of a stepping-stone for me. I won’t do this forever.”

Isabella, the Lyft driver who let Kojo tag along with her for the day, says she quit her job in security at Walmart in 2016 because she realized she could make more money as a full-time driver and also have time to write books on the side. But a recent report from Georgetown University suggests that local ride-hailing drivers often don’t have a clear picture of how much they’re actually making, and 33% say they’ve taken on debt during their time as a driver for ride-hailing companies. Even with those obstacles, though, many–Isabella included–say that they plan to keep on driving in the future.

  1. “We didn’t even know [the taxis] were red before you just told me.”

Our last ride of the day was Ben, a tourist from Los Angeles on his way to Ben’s Chili Bowl. On the way, Kojo dropped a little local knowledge: unlike New York’s ubiquitous yellow cabs, D.C. taxis are red and black. While Ben said he might have considered trying to grab a cab if he’d known what color to look out for, he’s far from the only one to choose rideshare over a taxi: last year, the District released numbers indicating that taxi ridership was down 31% since 2015.

But here’s one thing the numbers don’t tell you, which Kojo heard often throughout the day from riders: while they often hear great stories from their rideshare drivers, sometimes they’re just not in the mood to strike up conversations with their drivers or fellow rideshare passengers. Kojo (or at least the talk show host in him) was dismayed.

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