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Transportation Commission Recommends Against All-Electric Cabs

Arlington County’s Transportation Commission says an all-electric cab fleet is a good idea whose time hasn’t come quite yet. On Thursday the advisory body voted against County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s recommendation that the County Board grant operating licenses to a fleet of 40 electric taxicabs.

While the commission was supportive of the idea of more environmentally-friendly cabs in Arlington, it expressed doubts that the proposal — from Arlington-based startup EV Taxicabs — was feasible.

The company is proposing a taxi fleet of Nissan Leaf electric vehicles, each equipped with 4G WiFi hotspots and iPads for passenger use, plus a network of publicly-accessible electric vehicle chargers around Arlington. A commission member said it’s a good idea in theory, but in practice electric cabs — which would have a range of 60 to 105 miles on a single charge — could present a problem for passengers and drivers.

“The range offered by the Nissan Leaf simply doesn’t seem to be enough to effectively use it as a taxi… especially when you factor in runs to Dulles Airport, etc.” commission member Chris Slatt told ARLnow.com. “It’s one thing if your drivers has to stop for 3 minutes to put gas in their cab because you asked to be taken on a very long trip — it is quite another if your driver has to drive 5 miles across town and charge for 30 minutes for that same reason.”

Slatt said the commission was also “unconvinced” that EV Taxicabs could install electric vehicle chargers at apartment buildings, where many cab drivers live. Such chargers would allow drivers to charge their cabs overnight. The company also proposed installing fast “Level 3” chargers, but Nissan warns that fast charging could reduce the life of the car batteries to just a year or two — an expensive proposition for cab drivers, who would likely have to foot the bill for the replacement battery.

“EVs simply can’t match hybrids or standard cabs at this point when it comes to ‘getting people to their destination’ which is the whole point of a taxi,”  Slatt said. “Hopefully by the next time taxi certificates come around EVs will have matured to the point where our existing companies will be moving to them without us even needing to bring in a new company.”

In place of the electric cabs, Slatt said the commission recommended awarding additional operating licenses to EnviroCab, an all-hybrid cab company which currently has 50 licenses in Arlington, and to Friendly Cab, which has 27 traditional cabs and 7 hybrid cabs. The additional licenses would allow Friendly to begin dispatch service and would allow EnviroCab to reduce wait times during peak taxi demand period, Slatt said.

(EnviroCab recently announced plans to add one all-electric cab to its existing hybrid fleet.)

The County Board is set to consider the recommendations of Donnellan and the Transportation Commission at its Nov. 17 meeting.

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