NYC Will Test Uncertain Feasibility of Electric Taxis

By · April 23, 2013

Nissan LEAF Taxi in NYC

New York City Major Michael Bloomberg yesterday officially announced that six all-electric Nissan LEAFs are entering service as part of a year-long zero-emission taxi cab pilot program. But do electric cars with limited range, and relatively long refueling times, represent the most practical and effective path to the greening of New York's taxi fleet?

That's far from certain, according to Paul Gillespie, perhaps the country’s most prominent green taxi advocate. “Both Nissan and the Taxi and Limo Commission must know that the recent history of using the LEAF as a taxi has not been a happy one,” said Gillespie, in an email to PluginCars.com. He said that drivers were alienated during a recent EV taxi project in Osaka, Japan. “They couldn’t find any takers,” he said. Japan Times also reported that battery degradation over time, and the use of heaters, made the electric taxis impractical.

Gillespie is formerly headed the taxi commission in San Francisco. Largely due to his efforts, San Francisco’s taxi fleet became one of the greenest in the world, boasting a high percentage of hybrids and alternative fuel cars.

The New York electric taxis join more than 13,000 medallion cabs licensed in NYC, including traditional gasoline cars, diesel cabs, and hybrids. Nissan is the auto industry's most active promoter of electric vehicles. The company's NV200 minivan was chosen by New York City as its “Taxi of Tomorrow.”

Questions about Charging and Comfort

Nissan LEAF Taxi Detail />

“We want to see how you integrate an electric vehicle into the taxi duty cycle,” said David Yassky, Commissioner of the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission. “Taxis are on the road 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so we have to figure out how you integrate the charging into that Taxi cycle.”

To help the six test cars provide the best service to New York travelers, Nissan is installing several rapid charge points around the city for drivers to recharge their cabs to about 80 percent capacity in 30 minutes.

The Nissan LEAF taxi cab is essentially the same as the LEAF you’ll see at your local Nissan dealer. The only options to be added to the LEAF taxis in New York City are a fare meter, two-way radio, iconic roof-mounted taxi sign, and of course, the infamous New York City Taxi Cab TV. “The back seat is cramped, and once you start hooking up meters and credit card processors and all the other electronics, not to mention a heater or AC, what will the range truly be?” asked Gillespie.

The electric taxi project was originally promised in 2011. Although the initial six-car test fleet will be part of the NYC Taxi fleet for just a year, they serve as a vital stepping stone towards Major Bloomberg’s ambitious goal: to have at least one third of all taxis in NYC electric by the end of this decade.

“I feel like the people who truly care about clean taxis and understand the industry are moving to hybrids, while electric taxis are being pushed by politicians and well meaning, but naive, government folks,” said Gillespie. He believes that it be difficult to get New York City to consider the best technology options for overall environmental benefits when the city has closed their taxi market to anyone but Nissan for the next ten years.

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