Taxis are a fixture of every town and city. Whether its black cabs plying their trade on the streets of London, private hire vehicles lined up outside offices or Ubers awaiting their next app notification, they provide an invaluable public service. Regardless of how you get one, almost all of them have one thing in common; they are fuelled either by petrol or diesel engines.
That though looks set to change. With cities as diverse as London, Cardiff, Glasgow and Leeds all considering introducing potentially costly Clean Air Zones (CAZs), the public calling for something to be done about the quality of the air we breathe and with more and more manufacturers bringing out new electric and hybrid vehicles, are the days of the traditional taxi coming to an end? And if so what are the advantages and disadvantages for cabbies who want to switch to an electric taxi? In this, our latest blog, we'll look at the evidence and ask if electric taxis are the future of our industry.
In the last couple of years, the option of switching to an electric cab has become a reality. And while the closely related option of driver-less taxis remains a (fairly!) distant option, plugging in rather than filling up is now a commercially viable option.
Leading London firm, Fulham Cab Company, recently announced it was ordering a further 30 electric cabs, bringing its total to 70, and tipping the balance in favour of electrically powered ones across its fleet. The cab they chose is the TX which owing to its petrol extender engine has a reputed range of 377 miles – more than enough for a single day's work for most drivers in town.
Manufacturer LEVC's figures suggest that drivers can expect a typical fuel saving of £100 per week versus a traditionally powered vehicle – which is, let's face it – a lot of fares. With electric cars thought to have costs per mile of between 2-4p versus around 12p for a diesel, and with greater reliability thanks to simpler engine configurations, it's little wonder then that Fulham's decision to go electric was driven by strong demand from cabbies looking to rent one.
Canny cabbies may also have their sights set on the future savings too. Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has already unveiled plans for Zero Emissions Zones within the capital, with a zero-emission zone in the heart of the city by 2025. The exact costs of entering such zones are, at the time of writing, unclear. But with Glasgow charging £20 a day or even banning high-polluting vehicles completely and with London's Low Emission Zones charging minibuses up to £100 per day for the likes of minibuses, the cost savings of low emissions are likely not to be sniffed at.
Tax is also a big factor in all this too. The Chancellor has already hinted that come the Budget that he will lift the freeze on duel duty, a decision that will doubtless hit diesel drivers (i.e. taxi drivers) hard. The government has already said it wants to eliminate new diesel and petrol vehicles by 2040 and one sure-fire way to do that is to tax them to death.
The cost of taxi insurance cover has been a big part of the electric vehicle debate. More and more insurers are developing policies and we're told – given the relatively simplicity of their motors and their increased reliability – that taxi insurance quotes for electric cabs should soon prove cheaper.
Customers are also playing a big part in this transformation. Clean air is considered by most as a right, and with the media reporting stories surrounding the estimated 40,000 UK deaths caused by pollution each and year and the Chinese study showing a link between pollution and a loss of intelligence and it's easy to see why people are worried. Fulham Cab's boss said their decision to invest in electric cabs was in part due to 'strong customer demand'.
So, between running costs, clean air and customer demand the case for switching looks pretty irresistible, right? Alas it's not quite that straightforward…
In 2015 there were around 242,000 cabs in the UK, the vast majority of which are diesels or petrol powered. Switching that number of vehicles is going not only going to take time, but there are some significant challenges in the way. The one that's most often cited is the current lack of range for most electric vehicles. While the most efficient can now cover around 300 miles on a single charge or in conjunction with a range extender, most fall short of that capability.
A related problem is charging times and charging points. Filling up between jobs at a petrol station takes a minute or two and they're pretty easy to find. Even fast charge points take upwards of 20 minutes and these are still relatively few and far between and it will take until the early 2020s before charging points overtake pumps in number.
Range is also an issue when it comes to a choice of vehicles. LEVC, Tesla and Geely all have models available, but they don't come cheap. LVEC's TX will cost you around £60,000 as opposed to £45,000 for a traditional black cab. Yes, there are savings down the road, but that's still an awful lot more fares you have to find to make up the difference in payments.
The weight of evidence is starting to become overwhelming: electric cabs are coming and are going to be here sooner than we may think. With manufacturers including Ford, Audi, BMW, Toyota, Vauxhall and Honda investing billions in electric vehicles of all shapes and sizes, with diesels under fierce attack from the public and the tax man and with our need to clean up our air, it's looking like electricity is the way forward.
How long this revolution will take to complete is debatable. Thanks to deals such as BP buying Chargemaster and pledging to put charging points on its forecourts and with councils such as Southampton being forced to create clean air schemes, it may well be that before long our cabs will be green.
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