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.

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