Electric Taxis Can Work, Despite the Bad News From Virginia

By · November 06, 2012

Better Place in Amsterdam

Better Place has this swap station and a 10-taxi fleet up and running at the Amsterdam airport. (Better Place photo)

Arlington, Virginia officials are taking a dim view of a plan to field America’s first all-electric taxi fleet there, but their arguments might be mooted if they took a look at what’s happening across the ocean in Amsterdam.

Arlington’s transportation committee voted 5-0 last week to recommend that the County Board reject the request from EV Taxicab founder Malik Khattak. The ambitious Khattak wants to field 50 Nissan Leafs and 56 charging stations, and make runs to both downtown Washington and Dulles Airport.

All About the Airport

It’s the latter plan that appears to be the sticking point. Rick Vogel of Envirocab, which runs hybrid cabs in Arlington, asks, “What happens if a customer gets in when it’s half-charged and wants to go to Dulles?”

But a 10-vehicle electric fleet from Israel’s Better Place has been shuttling customers from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport to the city’s downtown for the past month. Granted, the distance is less—Schiphol is nine miles from Amsterdam’s city center, and Dulles is 26 miles away from Washington, but the Leaf should be able to handle it.

“If they believe going to Dulles airport might be an issue, then they should put in a charging infrastructure at the airport,” Khattak says. “This [the committee’s vote] is not a final decision. We are still standing strong, and this can be done. The county board still needs to vote.”

Indeed, EV Taxicab’s plan calls for six 480-volt fast chargers, and one or two of those at the airport would probably address the range question. Better Place’s fleet of Renault Fluence Z.E. cars, of course, is equipped for battery switching, with a state-of-the-art automated swap station adjacent to the airport.

Up and Running

According to Better Place spokesman John Proctor, the 10 Dutch taxis are in regular service with local operators Connexxion, Bios and TCA, and are set to cover 50,000 to 60,000 miles annually. The project is underwritten by the European Union’s TEN-T program as part of the effort to “decarbonize” Europe.

Better Place is also looking for taxi partners in Israel, and it’s finally making progress in setting up an electric taxi fleet in San Francisco. That fleet, backed by a $7 million grant awarded through the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, was to have been operating this year, but is now slated for 2013.

Coda and Better Place

The first phase of the program, Proctor said, will put six converted Coda sedans on the road, with two switch stations. By 2015, he said, the program will add 55 cabs (not necessarily Codas) and two more switch stations. Getting companies other than Renault to field cars with switchable batteries has been a major headache for Better Place. The Codas are to be converted by a company called FEV. Better Place had previously converted a few Japanese-spec Nissan Rogues for a pilot program in Tokyo.

Electric taxis could be one of the best ways to get switchable batteries on the road in significant numbers. And a program in Virginia serving Washington, D.C. would be a great way to add political visibility to EVs.


· Anonymous (not verified) · 5 years ago

Arlington county Transportation commission need to research more. Their knowledge need to be improve about EV's.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 5 years ago

Luckily, the Arlington Transportation Commission only has an advisory role, not a legal one. The elected County Board will make the real decision. [Heck, the Transportation Commission didn't even have a quorum on that vote.] This is just a hiccup on the road to progress.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 5 years ago

Fortunately the Arlington Transportation Commission is just an advisory body, and has no legal standing. Shoot, the TC didn't even have a quorum on that vote. The elected County Board will make the real decision in a few weeks.

· · 5 years ago

Half charge to go 26 miles; no problem. Did I read that right?

Explain to me why they have a vote in the first place? This is a private adventure correct?

· Anonymous (not verified) · 5 years ago

The Transportation Commission is out of sync with reality. Take a look at these guys project facebook.com/evsedans

· · 5 years ago

As a frequent DC business visitor, I've observed that the DC area taxi system (like most other 'business' in the DC area) is pretty corrupt. The only taxis that are allowed to pick passengers up at Dulles are those controlled by The Washington Flyer company. Any other taxi can drop passengers off at Dulles but must return to their origin empty (what a waste of energy and money).
There are other corrupt rules about taxis within the DC government office area but I won't even start discussing that.
The silly airport restriction, however, could actually make this EV taxi plan work as I doubt that Arlington taxis will often drive anywhere except within Arlington or from Arlington to Dulles or nearby National Airports, downtown offices, or maybe Union Station. With fast chargers at Dulles and any popular taxi stands (where cabbies spend a lot of their time waiting) in Arlington, I can see how this could be perfect.
In places like San Francisco, where taxi drivers can have to drive long distances, I can see how short-range EVs such as the Leaf might be less desirable but Arlington may be different.
It sounds like Rick Vogel of Envirocab just doesn't want any competition so he's trying a typical beltway crony play to get the government to help him out.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 5 years ago

What a desision? Board should know better. Having charging stations for public...... What else do the want from a private firm?

· · 5 years ago

This Amsterdam system apparently has the minimum facilities to work

1). A battery swap station to 'instantly' put a full tank of juice in the Car

2). A coda with 150 mile range of juice per swap.

I have no doubt this system is workable, especially Amsterdam's ridiculous prices for petrol.

Anything less than 1 and 2 combined I'm afraid will have difficulty being successful.

· Tom Mac (not verified) · 5 years ago

Regarding public charging stations I think when the public good is served then the board should do this.
As a physician interested in public health I would think the positive health benefits of this change would be many.

1) Less particulate pollution :lowering asthma attacks less ER visits, less lung cancer from less urban pollution.

2) Less global warming gasses, lowering the likelihood of Sandy like superstorms hitting COASTAL virginia

3) Hundreds of customers introduced to new scary technology in a safe effective manner.

Are these tiny benefits significant? Are they so tiny that at this level they may not even be measurable ? Probably true in both cases.

But know that if THIS board acts to promote this as a clean healthy way to get to the airport then others might see an advantage and other towns might want to outshine Arlington.

From a tiny acorn grows a big oak tree....

Peace Tom

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