Skip to main content

Washington, DC considers supplementing ambulances with Uber and other ride services

Washington, DC considers supplementing ambulances with Uber and other ride services


Low-priority calls could be directed to Uber, not an ambulance

Share this story

If you buy something from a Verge link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Washington, DC is considering utilizing drivers from Uber or similar services to help shift some of the lowest-priority calls away from ambulances. According to NBC Washington 4, Washington, DC city emergency services are thinking outside the box when it comes to dealing with low-level emergency calls by utilizing third-party services such as Uber or local taxi companies to help ease the demand on the system.

Major metro areas in the United States have seen the call rates at 911 call centers steadily increase in recent years, often with calls that aren’t considered true emergencies.

One consideration might be to direct low priority calls away to ride share services

NBC spoke with Washington, DC FEMS Chief Gregory Dean, who noted that he was considering adding nursing staff to 911 Call Centers. The medical personnel will be on hand to evaluate the calls and to determine whether or not an ambulance is necessary. One of the considerations is working with alternative modes of transportation, such as Uber, to bring low-priority patients to a doctor, rather than an emergency room.

Currently, dispatchers send emergency workers directly to the call, regardless of the severity of the problem. As calls increase, this has put additional strain on the system.

Uber does have some partnerships with municipal governments to provide some services to seniors, providing transportation to doctors or other related services.

The plan could have merits, provided medical personnel will be able to make accurate assessments of emergency callers. However, part of the underlying issue appears to be in the resources that 911 call centers are provided to function, a problem that was recently raised by HBO’s John Oliver on Last Week Tonight. Shifting some of the load to third-party services such as Uber, Lyft, or taxies would help reduce some of the load placed on already-burdened emergency service providers. However, these evaluations will need to be demonstrated as reliable, without putting potential lives at risk.

A task force evaluating the plan is set to come up with recommendations in early 2017.