Gearing Up America's First Electric Taxi Service

By · October 30, 2012

Nissan LEAF taxi

EV Taxicabs will field 50 of these, if all goes well. (EV Taxicabs photo)

As we all know, the greening of the taxicab fleet has begun. Toyota Prius and other hybrid fleets are thick on the ground, and if you call for a taxi in any major North American city, it may just come festooned with save-the-earth slogans.

Plug-in hybrids make a lot of sense for taxi fleets, but are we ready for an all-electric taxi fleet? EV Taxicabs, a new company in Arlington, Virginia, thinks so. The company is planning to field a fleet of 50 Nissan LEAF cabs, connected to a network of 50 Level II and six Quick Charge public chargers around this northern corner of the state. AeroVironment is a supplier.

Plug-In Taxis, Coming Soon?

The brains behind EV Taxicabs is Malik Khattak. In an interview, he said that his father was a taxicab driver when he came to the U.S., and he himself also moonlighted in that role while a student at George Mason University in northern Virginia. The threat of global warming is a motivator for him—he sees green car technology making lots of progress, but the taxi industry moving very slowly.

Khattak said he’s hopeful that he’ll get the go-ahead for his electric taxi fleet at a November 17 county meeting. “We’ll see if there’s any opposition, from other taxi operators or others,” he said. “Once we are approved, I expect we’ll put 10 cabs on the road at first, then increase them as the charging stations are installed.”

The cabs will make occasional forays into nearby Washington, D.C., which Khattak says has 35 working public chargers. Obviously, given the need to keep taxis working, fast charging from the six AeroVironment units will be important, as will a conveniently located Quick Charger at a nearby Walgreens. The AeroVironment units, which cost approximately $20,000 each, will also be available to the public, Khattak said.

Before anyone writes in to remind me of this, I'm aware that New York City had electric taxis circa 1899 and 1900. And street-level charging, too! At that time, EVs dominated the auto market, but unfortunately it didn't last. I'm talking here about the first EV taxis in the modern era.

Battery-Switching Cabs

Better Place says its battery switching technology is ideal for taxicabs, but it so far hasn’t been able to convince any Israeli taxi operators to try it out. Nearer to fruition is Better Place’s electric taxi project in San Francisco. The federal Department of Transportation is working with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Yellow Cab, and various other local organizations.

As planned, there will be four battery switch stations in the San Francisco to San Jose corridor. It’s unclear what kind of timetable that program has, but Better Place briefly operated a few battery-swapping taxis in a Tokyo test program. It looks like Khattak may have the first commercial-level electric taxicab fleet in the United States, if he can achieve liftoff.


· Spec (not verified) · 5 years ago

Unless you have a many quick chargers already installed and scattered around the area being served, I think this is a bad idea and will end up reflecting poorly on EVs.

A Leaf is a great commuter vehicle for getting back & forth to work and doing some shopping. But it is not built to run all day long. It can only run for a couple hours at best before needing a recharge. And you can't even last that long because you'll need to keep enough charge to make sure you can get back to the charging station.

· Volume Van (not verified) · 5 years ago

Excellent. It has around 80 mile range and during the lunch, the Driver can charge the vehicle for the evening session. In a high traffic place like Washington where the speed is only 15 mph and also the Taxis idle for some time, it may take 6 hours to finish the 80 mile range.

Gradually the range of EVs will slowly improve.

Don't worry about the EV chargers, they are springing up everywhere and currently there are 13,845 chargers.

· · 5 years ago

I have no idea if taxis make much more then 80 miles per day, but you can't hope that leaf battery will survive constant quick charging many times a day, it would die very soon. Battery swapping or perhaps different battery chemistry would be much better solution.

· SteveC (not verified) · 5 years ago

I say give it a try but my own opinion is that it will be a failure.
I have lost my respect for the Leaf.
I no longer have a desire to own a Leaf.
I see it as a toy and not a real car.
You are going to have these taxis stranded all over town.
The range SUCKS on these toys.
I would not be in a hurry to go across town and get in one of these taxis.

· · 5 years ago

When I was a cabby, our average mileage for an 8 hour shift was around 200. So, the present day Leaf is not quite ready for this sort of thing. Give it a few years and better batteries will probably change that metric.

The present day Volt could do it, though . . . although the 2 seat rear may be a compromise. I note from my (so far) 1+ week driving experience in one that, after the battery transitions to the gasoline backup, normal city driving still provides regenerative charging to the battery and gives you phenomenal mileage potential . . . certainly better than conventional Prius-type hybrid.

I do have to take exception at SteveC's comment, though. The Leaf is NOT a toy. It's designed for typical civilian city driving and serves those who use it as designed more than enough range for a charge per day. He obviously has never spent any time living with one.

· Miles Cobbett (not verified) · 5 years ago

If you look up the T-Zero 0-60 in 3.6 second all electric car from ACPropulsion Alan Cocconi the invented of the e-Motor and inverter in the Tesla's you will see that he drives his electric car for LA to Las Vegas a distance of 240 miles and then plugs in while he gambles at his motel Six regular outlet plug and then drives back to LA... So all this bogus infor about only 80 miles is bullshit ! Just get a Tesla or ask Alan Cocconi!

· Miles Cobbett (not verified) · 5 years ago

If you look up the T-Zero 0-60 in 3.6 second all electric car from ACPropulsion Alan Cocconi the invented of the e-Motor and inverter in the Tesla's you will see that he drives his electric car for LA to Las Vegas a distance of 240 miles and then plugs in while he gambles at his motel Six regular outlet plug and then drives back to LA... So all this bogus infor about only 80 miles is bullshit ! Just get a Tesla or ask Alan Cocconi!

· · 5 years ago

Not a realistic proposition, Miles, for a taxi fleet owner to pay $90K per copy for a Tesla S and then turn it into a cab that's going to get beat all to hell. You pay for the luxury but also for that massive and long range battery in the Tesla. Cabs are invariably lower end but honest workaday cars . . . and affordable EVs, for now, are range limited.

· · 5 years ago

@ Benjamin

I have to agree with you. I did a stint driving taxi's over 20 years ago and I would have been doing over 300 miles on a 12 hour shift in Glasgow every Saturday & Sunday. I did 4-6 hour shifts during the week when it was better but the day driver was doing 12 hours shifts anyway. The cars were private hire and had really bad fuel consumption then which was nuts and went through engines all the time. But the reality is even today they are driven constantly, up to 24 hrs a day over the weekends and long hours during the week too. That would kill an electric vehicle. Not a good idea to me keep them for what they are best at as normal commuter vehicle.

· Turbofroggy (not verified) · 5 years ago

@Deckard, I completely and totally disagree with you. We just drove our Nissan Leaf 275 miles in 8 hours this weekend, 550 miles round trip using the DC Fast Charging network known as the West Coast Electric Highway. It was 49 degrees, raining, and mostly highway, and we did the entire round 550 mile trip on $6 worth of electricity. This electric taxi company is going to make a killing. Their costs are super low and they will kill the competition. The costs of driving the Leaf are 1/10th to 1/20th the cost per mile of a Crown Vic, that adds up QUICKLY. There are already several taxi fleets running Leafs in Japan, they key is a good DC fast charger rollout, which this company is planning on doing. This company will be able to pay their drivers more, charge less for fares and make more money than any of the competition. This is the future of Taxis in urban environments.

· Bill Howland (not verified) · 5 years ago

While this Nissan project may work in this isolated instance, I'd say most will wait for much bigger batteries. Its a big logistics problem, that may be manageable for a huge taxi firm serving a huge customer base (you can save the EV's for only the short hops), but where I live the taxi runs are much longer, and its hard to get back reliably to home base (where you can charge back up).

A possible solution May be to have a backup taxi cab for each active cab (making the very big assumption that the taxi company can afford many idle cabs just charging up to be readily charged). This is straining credulity since many taxi drivers by me own their own clunkers and just work for a big taxi dispatching company. Doubtful that since they can't afford a nice car, how are they going to afford 2 expensive electrics?
Granted, a Big Pockets firm *COULD* do this and EVENTUALLY it would be profitable due to lower electric cost (minimal demand chargers since the chargers would be basically working 24 hours per day under this scenario - if not on the 'active' car then on the 'rest' car), and the maintenance cost advantage of electrics would obviously be an advantage. But this economic model still depends somewhat on the 'faith' that replacement batteries will be cheaper than they are now.

· · 5 years ago

You do know, Turbofroggy, that Nissan's Leaf warranty recommends only a single Level 3 charge per day. You are probably doing long term damage to your battery by charging it twice like in such a short time span. The Leaf is a solid and safe 4-door auto and that part of it makes it a good deal for a cab. But the present day battery is a weak link and the car's warranty is being voided if it's exposed to so many quick charges in this close of succession . . . especially day in and day out.

· · 5 years ago

@ Turbofroggy

The only way to get around the charging issue would be to battery swap. Driving a leaf you would need a full charge 2 - 3 times on a 12 hour shift. No way a taxi driver is taking an hour or more out of a 12 hour shift to charge his cab.

Not sure I agree with your $6 cost of electricity for 550 miles of driving. A 24 kw battery at 10 cents/kwh even getting 100 miles would cost $13.20 unless you are paying 4.5 cents/kwh. Taxi driving companies would be paying higher rates than that. Plus a lot of them flog their cars and would get a lot less than 100 miles out of a charge anyway.

I am all for electric cars taxis though bad idea

· · 5 years ago

@ Turbofroggy

Maybe in some areas where taxi mileages are really low it's a possibilty. I drove cabs on the West coast of Scotland and in Canberra Australia. There is no way it is a goer in either of these countries.

· EVlvr (not verified) · 5 years ago

When I read they intend to allow public access to their chargers, I realized their connection to reality is sadly absent.

· EVlvr (not verified) · 5 years ago

When I read they intend to allow public access to their chargers, I realized their connection to reality is sadly absent.

· · 5 years ago

I think in China taxi drivers use BYD EVs which have LiFePO4 batteries. They can be charged quickly and with little to no damage. Sure they are a bit heavier but can do the job for a taxi cab.

· David Martin (not verified) · 5 years ago

The 'world' seems to stop at the borders of the US!
As another poster said, they have an electric taxi service in China using the BTD E6, which has a battery capable of 4,000 100% discharges, and is rated at 186 miles between charges.
There is also an electric taxi service in Holland using the Leaf on airport runs.

· · 5 years ago

One item I do not see mentioned in these post is that will be interesting to see how far an electric motor will go before failure. The last time I checked Nissan has not had a failure on an electric motor yet, period. This is unheard of in a typical car engine. There is always some small amount of failure even in new cars. So yes there may be some weakness in the battery but the motor is superior.

· · 5 years ago

Regarding the BYD: the battery is rather large and the car itself looks to be rugged and utilitarian. This would make it a good choice for a taxi in certain applications. I don't know about LiFePO4s being able to be "charge quickly with little or no damage" but it's good technology. There is slightly less energy density when compared with other lithium formulas and it's less volatile in regards to fire in the event of a catastrophic failure.

Please remember that what will work for an electric taxi in one place might not work for another. Holland, for instance, is a very flat and small country. Its cities were built before the advent of cheap petroleum (or, for that matter, before any petroleum) and, thus, they are compact and close to each other.

The taxi requirements were different in the rural central Pennsylvania town where I used to drive. The town itself was compact, but with a very hilly terrain. This could prove challenging to an EV's range. We also used to regularly do runs to the local airport, which, back then, involved about a 60 mile round trip up the side of a mountain. In today's Leaf, that trip would be almost impossible. But, with better and longer range batteries that we'll undoubtedly see in a few years, it could be done.

· EV Driver (not verified) · 5 years ago

I use the Leaf for daily commuting in LA. Typical range with 80% charge is 80 miles. Does not seem practical as a taxi. You have to recharge before going empty which means the real range will be much less. Level 2 charges take a few hours. With only a few Quick Chargers in the market, the EV taxis will be in lines lines quite often. The QC takes up to 30 minutes.

· Joop (not verified) · 5 years ago

Its not the first electric taxi service in the world. This exist in Amsterdam for over a year, Taxi-e is using 12 Nissan Leaf. It's very success full.

· Gerard (not verified) · 5 years ago

I don't think this type of cab service would work too well in the hills of San Francisco. The batteries would be drained after a trip or two up California street!

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
    A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
    Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.