I am dismayed by the lack of taxicab service available in the Southeast neighborhoods of Washington. I recently waited two hours in vain for cabs from two different companies at Moten Elementary School on the corner of Elvans and Morris roads SE.

I am a social worker in the District, where I help truant children and dropouts reenter school. After transporting a client and her mother to an afternoon conference at Moten Elementary School, I left the meeting only to discover that my car had been stolen. While waiting for the police to file a report, I called a cab at 3:30 p.m., requesting that I be picked up by 4:30. The dispatcher told me to call back when I was ready to leave.

I called back at 4:45 and was told that it would be a while, since it was rush hour (and raining) but that a cab would come. I also called another cab company and was told I would have to wait 45 minutes. I had no choice but to wait.

Moten Elementary School staff encouraged me not to wait. Cynically, they informed me that cabs did not often come to the Moten neighborhood. After waiting for a cab for more than an hour, a considerate school engineer offered to drive me a few miles away where I could safely hail a cab on the street. I stubbornly refused his kind offer. After all, I had never waited for a cab longer than 30 minutes from my Northwest Washington home.

I called both cab companies four times during the wait, each call about 30 minutes apart. During the last two calls, dispatchers, sensing my urgency and anxiety, assured me that cabs had been identified and were on the way.

By the time my husband was able to pick me up at 7:10 p.m., no cab had appeared.

Fortunately, my husband arrived home early that night and was able to help. But what if he hadn't? The cab companies' false promises put me at risk. I was hesitant to take public transportation in a neighborhood where my car had been stolen in daylight.

Neither cab company was able to explain the failure of its service when I called to inquire the next day. Both companies assured me that they did not discriminate and did provide services in all neighborhoods of the District. One honest employee, however, encouraged me to take my complaint to the taxicab commission, remarking sadly that perhaps the complaint would help to change cab company policy.

The experience has reaffirmed my deep respect for others -- the educators and social workers, mostly -- who provide services in so-called high-risk neighborhoods for at-risk children. The sad truth is that people like us are alone in our commitment. We can't even depend on the cab companies to deliver what they promise. -- Nancy Opalack