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.

New to EVs? Start here

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  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
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