Calgary Journal Online

Calgary taxi companies embrace hybrid vehicles PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 12 August 2010 12:42

Many drivers still concerned about higher purchasing costs, despite fuel savings

Hybrid taxi cabs are slowly becoming more visible on Calgary streets, and plenty more are on the way, thanks to the efforts of local cab companies.


Jesse Bhangu says he enjoys driving a hybrid cab around town, adding that besides contributing to environmental needs, he feels like he’s really “making a difference.”
Photo: Sean-Paul Boynton/Calgary Journal
Since 2006, close to 50 hybrid vehicles have been adopted as taxi cabs by Checker Yellow Cabs, Associated Cabs and Mayfair Taxi, with several more currently on order for all three outfits.

While the cab companies are doing their part to contribute to cleaner Calgary streets, independent drivers are responsible for many of the hybrid taxis currently in service by purchasing their own vehicles.

“It’s simply a better environmental choice, that’s the number one reason,” says Jesse Bhangu, a driver for Associated Cabs who outfitted his Toyota Prius hybrid as his own taxi cab two years ago.

“My wife also has a hybrid car [a Toyota Camry hybrid] and we drive that when I’m not working. We’re both concerned and passionate about the environment, so it was a natural choice [to drive a hybrid taxi].”

The other reason Bhangu cites is the hybrid vehicle’s low fuel economy and gas savings, a main selling point for hybrid taxi initiatives both here and around the world.

According to Climate Change Central, during the 2006 Hail a Hybrid pilot program – in which five Calgary and Edmonton drivers tested various models of hybrid vehicles, and reported their fuel costs and economy – drivers reported they spent an average of 58 per cent less on fuel than one would on a conventional taxi.

The standard car licensed as a taxi cab is the Ford Crown Victoria, which is normally equipped with a high-emitting V8 engine.

Hybrid Cabs Around the Globe

  • The very first hybrid taxi, a Toyota Prius hybrid, was driven in Vancouver in 2000. It lasted for 332,000 kilometres before being retired
  • In Vancouver, hybrid taxis account for nearly 50 per cent of all cabs found in the city
  • In fact, British Columbia passed a law in 2007, as part of its pledge to cut emissions by 33 per cent by 2020, which requires all new additions to taxi company fleets in Vancouver and Victoria to be hybrid or high fuel economy vehicles
  • However, in the United States, fuel economy standards are set by the federal government, a factor that has hindered the adoption of similar motions by the cities of New York and Boston
  • Nevertheless, New York City is quickly growing its hybrid taxi presence, with nearly 20 per cent of its fleet now made up of hybrid vehicles
  • In San Francisco, drivers and companies who purchase a hybrid or alternative fuel-powered vehicle receive an automatic cheque of $2,000 U.S. from the municipal government
  • Currently, out of San Francisco’s total fleet of 1,378, 57 per cent are alternative fuel vehicles: 657 are hybrids, while the remaining 131 are compressed natural gas vehicles
  • Other cities that have adopted hybrids into their taxi fleets include Denver, Seattle, Phoenix, Chicago, London, Tokyo, Sydney and Rome

The fuel savings justify the comparably large upfront cost of purchasing a hybrid vehicle, says Fred Walter, director of energy efficiency and conservation for Climate Change Central.

“Drivers are concerned about the cost, because hybrids tend to run about $10,000 more than a conventional taxi,” says Walter.

“But if they add up all the savings they’ll be making once they start driving the hybrid, within a couple of years, it really does balance out. They make that money back in a surprisingly short time frame.”

Additionally, Climate Change Central and the Alberta government have replaced Hail a Hybrid with an environmental rebate program. In addition to providing rebates to homeowners for purchasing environmentally-friendly products such as energy-efficient hot water heaters, boiler systems, clothes washers and insulation, the program also provides rebates to taxi drivers and companies who purchase hybrid vehicles.

Drivers can receive up to $3,000 from the government for their choice of vehicle, although it does depend on the model purchased, which Walter says is due to a sliding scale of fuel economy. The model found most efficient, the Toyota Prius hybrid, will earn drivers the full $3,000, while a Ford Escape hybrid owner will only receive $2,500. Other models earn even lower, from $2,000 to as low as $1,500.

Despite such promises of rebates and quick turnaround for earning back those high upfront purchasing costs, companies in Calgary haven’t found it easy to convince their drivers to make the switch to hybrids.

“It’s been hard to make drivers feel comfortable with forking over more money,” says Kurt Enders, vice president of Checker Transportation Group, who estimates that out of Checker Yellow Cabs’ approximately 600-car fleet, “around 16” are hybrid vehicles. (Associated estimates 35 hybrids are included in their 500-car fleet; Mayfair did not respond to requests for comment.)

“Yes, the fuel savings of a hybrid are significant when compared to a Crown Victoria, but in reality, the savings of a hybrid Toyota Camry compared to a regular fuel-powered Camry are pretty much the same.

“Drivers are enthusiastic about the idea of driving a low-emissions vehicle, no question,” adds Enders. “It’s just a matter of money when it all comes down to it, which is fair enough; these options don’t come cheap.”

Enders also adds that Checker sees hybrids as the only answer to cutting down on the company’s carbon footprint. Many fuel-powered vehicles have had their engines replaced with V6 and four-cylinder engines, which make for fewer emissions in the long run and better fuel savings.

In addition, Enders and Checker are also waiting for what future technology has in store for greener transportation options.

“There are other choices like fully electric-powered vehicles that are already coming down the pipeline,” says Enders. “So people may decide at some point that that’s the best option and we should embrace that. We evolve with the times.

“I’m not saying that hybrid vehicles aren’t a good idea,” he adds. “I just think that putting all our eggs into the hybrid basket may not be the best solution.”

Nevertheless, drivers taking up the hybrid torch love how they stand out in the crowd.

“Everyone seems really impressed when I tell them they’re riding in a hybrid,” remarks Bhangu. “So yeah, it does feel I’m making a difference.”