In response to the repeated exclusion of Ward 7 and 8 from online businesses entering the District, local resident Latoya Watson has started a campaign calling on well-known meal delivery services Postmates, Caviar, and DoorDash to serve all eight wards equally and start delivering to communities east of the Anacostia River.
More than 500 people have signed the online petition, which is attracting support from residents throughout the city at a time when officials and journalists are investigating these potentially discriminatory practices by technology companies.
This campaign follows growing public awareness of the inequitable distribution of new digital services for residents east of the Anacostia River. Last week, ride-hailing app, Via, was ordered by city officials to expand its coverage area within 90 days or risk losing its license.
‘Nothing Less than Modern-Day Redlining’
Articles recently published in East of the River magazine (April 2018) and in the Washington Post highlighted the unequal experiences of residents with meal delivery more broadly. Both reported that most services do not serve the largely black and low-income neighborhoods east of the river, which are also home to a quarter of the city’s population. The apps that do provide service tend to offer limited options and poor service.
Tyrell Holcomb, Chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 7F said, “As a native of Ward 7 I’ve watched other areas experience rapid growth to include new sit down restaurants and food delivery options. The lack of food options on the East End, unfortunately is one of race, this injustice must end!”
Resident Rachel Reynolds added her signature to the petition, commenting, “I live within 1.5 – 2 miles of many restaurants along the H Street corridor, yet none of the delivery services will come to my house because I live east of the river.”
“This is nothing less than modern-day redlining.”
For Reynolds and other residents, the lack of food delivery to their home is evidence of further prejudice exhibited by businesses against residents of the neighborhoods within those zip codes. On neighborhood social media sites, some point to the lack of food delivery options as evidence that businesses view Ward 7 and 8 neighborhoods as poor and dangerous, hypothesizing that drivers fear by exiting their cars during delivery they will leave vehicles vulnerable to theft and themselves to robbery.
The online petition was started by Ward 7 and River Terrace resident Latoya Watson on the consumer organizing platform, Spendrise. Based in the District, Spendrise provides online tools that empower customers together to ask businesses to adopt socially responsible practices.
Watson said she was motivated to start the petition because of the difference in access she noted between the areas where she lives and where she works. “I live in River Terrace, and I work downtown. The disparity between what I can access at work versus at home is astounding,” she said. “New companies promise a better, more open, more convenient future, but seeing the inequitable distribution of service makes me ask, a better future for whom?”
“It’s pretty hard to miss that delivery services are disproportionately leaving out Black individuals, like me, my family, and my neighbors. Black people deserve quality food and equal service, and that’s why I started this campaign,” she added. “Something has to change.”
Socially Active Customers
Eric Shih, founder and CEO of Spendrise, sees Watson’s campaign as part of a growing trend of active and socially engaged consumers.
“More and more consumers today expect companies to be socially responsible and values-driven,” said Shih. “Successful businesses know they need to be responsive to their customers, so when paying and potential customers speak up together, it’s a surefire way to get companies to listen. Together, we can be powerful advocates for positive change everywhere we spend.”
One exception to this uniform lack of service is UberEats, with which some residents described having positive experiences. At an April 11th event held at the Uber Greenlight station (3921 Minnesota Ave NE) Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said that Uber starts from a belief that they “want to be available to everyone everywhere.” Noting that data indicated the area east of the Anacostia was underserved by restaurant delivery, he suggested that other companies might not be aware of the potential in the area, saying that the launch of Uber Eats has been “an absolute surprise and dynamite in this area.”
The petition was launched April 4th, gathering over 500 signatures and more than 100 comments from residents of Wards 7 and 8 and also current Caviar, Postmates, and DoorDash customers from all over the District. On behalf of Watson, Spendrise has notified the companies about this campaign and made initial contact with some. Watson awaits a full response from all three companies.