Washington D.C. May Soon be Sending 911 Callers an Uber
People who call 911 in the nation’s capital may soon be picked up be a new kind of ambulance: an Uber car-share.
Washington D.C.’s emergency services department is considering using car-share services like Uber—as well as regular taxis—to transport low-level emergency callers, according to NBC’s News4 affiliate in the city.
If the city decides to go with the program, nurses would be added to 911 call centers so they could evaluate the medical needs of callers, and those who did not truly need emergency room service would be sent a non-ambulance vehicle that would deliver them to a doctor’s office instead of a hospital.
“We are working with the health department to find other ways to transport people, such as using a contract taxi cab or Uber,” D.C. Fire and EMS Department Chief Gregory Dean told News4. “We are trying to find creative ways to try to reduce the strain on the system.”
According to News4, the city sent out responders on more than 160,000 emergency medical service calls in 2015, many of which were not for high-priority medical issues. The city receives some 1.8 million 911 calls annually.
Uber already has worked with several towns and cities to provide discounted rides for senior citizens. In the last 18 months, the firm has piloted or announced programs with Gainesville and Miami Lakes, Fla.; Columbus, Ohio; Austin; Tucson and Phoenix, Ariz; and Ventura County, Calif.
The 911 system has been in the news recently, after John Oliver devoted a May segment to problems with its lack of staffing, funding, and technology that mean that it cannot respond quickly or accurately to many calls. While using Uber won’t fix caller location issues, using car-share services for non-emergency cases could take some pressure off overwhelmed EMS responders.
According to FEMS chief Dean, the D.C. task force handling the issue is supposed to make a recommendation by October, with the chosen program to be implemented in early 2017.
Fortune has contacted Uber and the city of Washington D.C. and will update the story with their responses.