If you live in Washington, D.C., next time you dial 911 for a medical emergency, instead of riding to the hospital in the back of an ambulance, there's a chance you could find yourself in the back seat of a black Prius with free bottled water and chewing gum.

NBC Washington reports that Washington D.C. Fire and EMS Department is considering working with the ridesharing mega-startup Uber, or with conventional taxis, to help handle the department's excessive load of emergency calls.

"We are working with the health department to find other ways to transport people, such as using a contract taxi cab or Uber," Gregory Dean, who heads the department, told an NBC affiliate. "We are trying to find creative ways to try to reduce the strain on the system."

Uber says it has not been in discussions with Washington D.C. EMS about this type of partnership. 

But, given that the company already has partnerships with public agencies in other regions, hearing that D.C. emergency services leaders are considering this doesn't come as too big a surprise. 

Evesham Township, New Jersey for a period covered the cost of Uber rides between the hours of 9 p.m. and 2 a.m. to prevent drunk driving. Uber has also worked with local governments to provide transportation to seniors. Programs like that can make it feel like Uber is replacing public services. 

More recently, Uber offered an unlimited ride pass for riders in Manhattan, seemingly to try to compete with the unlimited subway pass and with New York City taxis, which apparently continue to dominate the market for ride-hailing trips in the city.

The unlimited Uber pass comes with a surprising list of limitations: It's only for UberPool, only for rides below 125th Street in Manhattan, only for weekdays, and only for trips between the hours of 7-10 a.m. and 5-8 p.m.

Uber is not alone in its apparent efforts to take the place of public transit in commuting. Vanpool service Chariot offers commuter lines. Lyft, meanwhile, bills itself as the ridesharing service that makes public transportation more convenient.

Thinking bigger than all of them is Alphabet, which The Guardian reported last month has a secretive program aimed at overhauling municipal transportation infrastructures with systems that rely on ridesharing services like Lyft and Uber and public investments in Google technology.

The scenario of an Uber ambulance might sound like a nightmare to riders who have encountered inconveniences with Uber, such as a driver struggling to find his way to a location, or even taking a rider "off-route" to an unwanted location, a scenario that has resulted in accusations of kidnapping. Uber drivers at this time receive no formal in-person training.

Then again, as one firefighter tells NBC, even if you've only stubbed your toe, if you call 911 emergency service vehicles will come to you. Not all calls are for real emergencies.

Published on: Jul 13, 2016