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Board Nixes All-Electric Cab Fleet

by Katie Pyzyk December 11, 2012 at 10:10 am 6,701 82 Comments

(Updated at 10:40 a.m.) Following months of discussion and pushing back a final vote, the County Board has decided not to approve permits for an all-electric fleet of cabs.

Arlington start-up EV Taxicabs had requested permits for 40 cabs, for which County Manager Barbara Donnellan gave a stamp of approval in October.

The topic has garnered much discussion over the past few months, and was held over from last month’s Board meeting to allow for more time to examine the details.

One of the sticking points is Arlington’s lack of infrastructure to support electric cars, namely charging stations. EV had promised to install charging stations throughout the county that residents would be able to use as well.

“There is no question that we do not have the infrastructure,” said Board member Jay Fisette. “Again, part of this application’s strengths was that in fact, after two years we would, without any public investment.”

Board member Chris Zimmerman said although the charging stations are part of the plan, the electric car technology is too new and there’s not enough evidence to prove it can be a long term option.

“This is a very interesting technology and very well may be the wave of the future. I don’t think we, at this point, know exactly how that technology is going to shake out,” said Zimmerman. “I feel like we’re not quite ready for this yet.”

Fisette pointed out that there were many skeptics when EnviroCab first proposed launching a hybrid fleet, but the company’s idea has since transformed the community.

“We’re out in front of the pack in most instances, this would put us further out,” Fisette said. “This is exactly the kind of  innovation, the kind of opportunity that is needed for us to meet in the community energy plan.”

Board Chair Mary Hynes agreed that the electric fleet would be in line with the county’s long term energy plan, but feels it’s currently not a viable option.

“We’re at the infancy stages of this, we don’t yet have our county-wide strategy related to chargers,” Hynes said. “And I recognize that this proposer would jump start this a little bit, but I think we really do need to have our strategy in place.”

The board members encouraged EV to return during the next cab certificate allocation, in two years, to put in another request.

“I would hope that two years from now they’ll be back and we will have our game plan together and we’ll be in a position to allow this sort of a launch,” Hynes said.

Board members Libby Garvey and Jay Fisette voted in favor of EV Taxicab’s request, but Chris Zimmerman, Walter Tejada and Board Chair Mary Hynes voted no.

Despite going against Donnellan’s recommendation to approve the EV permits, the Board did side with Donnellan’s suggestion to grant additional cab permits. It’s the first time in four years the county suggested increasing the number of taxis on the road, during the certificate allocation process which takes place every two years. Prior to the increase, seven companies owned 765 licensed cabs.

Wheelchair accessible taxis make up a significant portion of the newly granted permits. Red Top Cab and Blue Top Cab companies each received five such permits. Friendly Cab Co. received 12 permits and will also launch a dispatch service. The total of 22 granted taxi certificates is well below the 65 suggested by Donnellan.

The Board sided with the county Transportation Commission in denying permits for EV Taxicab, but against the commission’s recommendation to divvy up some of the permits proposed for the company to Arlington-based EnviroCab.

Before her vote, Hynes also dealt a blow to taxi drivers hoping to obtain individual cab operating certificates. Hynes said that in the future, the Board is unlikely to approve new cab permits for companies that do not plan to utilize dispatch service.

  • Idiots

    The board is full of idiots. I guess that means the county is full of idiots as well since we elected them.

    • WeiQiang

      this is also the first word that came to mind. you can just see the bureaucrat-speak meter pegging. if the County wants to be an incubator, foster innovation, promote competition through various service offerings, and otherwise try to be pseudo-hip while offering citizens and visitors a reasonable variety of options, they haven’t demonstrated much foresight. Nissan backs EV. they’re in a partnership … if the Board doesn’t think that Nissan would do everything it could throughout the supply chain to make sure the infrastructure supported the success of EV, they’re nuts.

      another half measure that doesn’t achieve anything that the original proposal offered.

      • CW

        I don’t understand either…the county has been about tech, tech, tech…

    • drax

      Or maybe they aren’t idiots and we aren’t idiots, but you are. Just as plausible.

      • Foggy Dew

        This does support the concept that among competing hypotheses – most people are idiots v. one (or a few) cranky idiot(s) – the one making the fewest assumptions is correct.

    • Ballston Resident


      The Arlington County Board is not full of idiots. They are some of the most forward thinking politicians in this nation.

      They carefully considered this matter and in my opinion rightfully concluded that the county does not have the infrastructure (plug ins for electric cars) which would cost a lot of money which the county does not have. The hybrid taxis are working fine.

      Great decision by the Arlington Board.

      • Reply to Ballston Resident

        Ballston Resident,

        You do realize that the EV would be the ones supplying the infrastructure (plug ins for electric cars). So it would not cost the county anything. So everything you wrote is wrong.

      • brown before green

        “Reply” is correct. Arguments about lacking infrastructure are silly because the proposal was to install the infrastructure. It was a very well conceived plan, and the charging would occur on private properties, so gov’t meddling was not needed. The County just needed to step out of the way and let the private investment and market forces proceed with new technology, but still within the regulated taxi market. It was a no-lose proposition, until 3 losers voted against it.

  • Needler

    Did Jay Fisette actually say “we do no have the infrastructure”, or did he use the word not? Seriously, how hard is it to spend 30 seconds to proof what you write before you post it?

    • Hadur

      OH MY GOD, you totally weren’t able to determine the meaning and context of the statement. What a horrible crime has been visited upon you!

      • Needler

        You can be lazy, or you can take pride in what you do. If your job is to write, then you can at least put some effort into it. OH MY GOD – your name is so clever, I just got it! You must be quite a thinker!

        • Hadur

          Cease the grandstanding. 99% of gramatical errors called out by internet blog commentators are harmless and the meaning of the sentence remains obvious.

          A blogger’s job isn’t to have perfect grammar and spelling, a blogger’s job is to convey information. Typos that don’t impact the transmission of information are no big deal at all.

          • Quoth the Raven

            I don’t think it’s grandstanding. Using good grammar is important, no matter the context. Why not hold people to a high standard? Why excuse a mistake? What’s wrong with pointing it out? You say that these errors are “harmless”, and you’re probably right, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that one should just ignore the mistake. Pointing it out was the right thing to do.

          • y u no meme

            I read it – y u no edit it first?

          • Libby

            Hey, correct punctuation can save lives. To wit:
            Let’s eat Grandma.
            Let’s eat, Grandma.

          • Josh S

            Hadur, I don’t think there are gradations of grammar and spelling. It’s either right or it isn’t.

    • Adam

      As a writer myself, I often read what I meant to write, and miss typos. My editors sometimes have done this as well. It’s especially easy when writing/editing as quickly as possible to stay relevant and break news.

      That said, you should consider if your comments on one small mistake are really necessary. Is it difficult to just to point out “You have a typo in the fifth paragraph” and move on? To readers that have done this for me, I have offered a sincere “Thank you” and fixed the mistake immediately.

      I thought this was a very well-written story, and can tell there was plenty of effort put into it. I would like to hear EV Taxicabs response. They seemingly were willing to build the infrastructure, so the board’s response is curious.

    • CrystalMikey

      OMG…stop the presses! It’s a typo! :p

  • Streetcar

    From the top! Cue the comments!

  • MissKittenCat

    “This is a very interesting technology and very well may be the wave of the future. I don’t think we, at this point, know exactly how that technology is going to shake out,” said Zimmerman. “I feel like we’re not quite ready for this yet.” Zimmerman and the rest of the board really must be from 1860’s electric cab…NO thats from the future. street cars from my time YES!

    • drax

      Walking is Stone Age technology. Stop building sidewalks!

  • Chris

    So, just to make sure I have it right, here’s the Board’s line of thinking: We need to wait years and develop a formal County strategy for electronic vehicle charging before we can put 40 cabs on the road.

    But nevermind the red tape when it’s time to build a 10-story, arguably precendent-setting apartment building right off Lee Hwy. That strategy can come later. After all, it’s really easy to change 10-story buildings later, but really hard to add and remove cabs.

    • Hadur

      Really? We know Arlington can handle tall buildings. Widespread adoption of electronic cars and charging stations is unchartered territory. The two are not comparable in terms of unknowable effects and risks.

      • Josh S

        What are the risks?

        • Foggy Dew

          “There is but one working castle gate, and… and it is guarded by 60 men.”

          • TCE

            …”And our assets?”

  • You know

    Red Top blocked this.

    • Mike

      How? Do any Board members work for Red Top – not on Arlington operations, which would be a conflict of interest, but you know, maybe consulting on Red Top’s operations in Toronto or something.

      • Verysneaky

        It’s well known the top RedTop management/owners contribute large sums of cash to the board members and their campaigns. This should not be a shocker. You must pay to play in this county.

  • Josh S

    Two thumbs down for the County Board. History does not reward the timid.

    We don’t have the infrastructure, but the proposal included the infrastructure at no cost to the county? Wow.

  • novasteve

    How about an all diesel fleet? In fact push to get diesel electric hybrid cars? All electric would be problematic in the traffic here.

    • esmith69

      Last time I checked, the price of diesel was way higher than the price of electricity. Not to mention I believe most of our electricity is generated by natural gas now, which is cheap and clean.

      • diesel

        diesel works out cheaper ecasue you get better mileage.

      • Josh S

        I don’t know if “most” of “our” electricity is generated by natural gas, but I do know that “cheap” and “clean” are relative terms. CleanER than coal – sure. But there are other sources of electricity.

  • NoVapologist

    If EV wants to get approval, they need to hire AECOM as a consultant on the proposal.

  • Glebe Roader

    This was a novasteve comment from the October article saying electric cabs might be coming:

    “October 16, 2012 at 5:20 pm

    Final straw. I’m moving. Maybe if they lacked the ipads it wouldn’t be so horrible, but to just confirm the stereotypes about what it’s like here….”

    So, I guess he is staying.

    • drax

      Vote them all out!

  • CW

    From ArlNow December 1905 Edition:

    “Board Nixes Gasoline Horseless Carriage Fleet”

    “This is a very interesting technology and very well may be the wave of the future. I don’t think we, at this point, know exactly how that technology is going to shake out,” said Zimmerman. “I feel like we’re not quite ready for this yet.”

    “We’re at the infancy stages of this, we don’t yet have our county-wide strategy related to gasoline stations,” Hynes said. “And I recognize that this proposer would jump start this a little bit, but I think we really do need to have our strategy in place.”

    • CrystalMikey



  • Chad

    You need to have the charging infrastructure not just in Arlington but in directly adjoining jurisdictions as well before this becomes viable. Quite a few cab trips are to go to DC, Alexandria, or even parts of Fairfax. If that limits the availability of cabs because they don’t have the charge to provide the roundtrip, then it is too soon for this proposal.

    • CW

      I don’t understand. Why are you in favor of preventing the market from working for this technology? Did you think, at one point, that iPods should be illegal because there weren’t enough songs on iTunes?

      • Chad

        Well, those are interesting questions and bring up some good points. In terms of a “market”, you are dealing with a very artificial market with cabs because of the funky jurisdictional rules. Those boundaries and rivalries are actual big roadblocks to allowing cab innovation to function as a true market. That’s kind of my point about charging stations for Arlington cabs in DC. It will never happen without cooperation and homogenization of the regional cab market.

        As for the iPod analogy, I don’t think it applies to this topic at all. The proliferation of the purchasable commodity (digitized songs) is a completely different metric than the growth of charging infrastructure needed for cabs. I could buy in iPod and make my own music to use on it. I need to rely on the cab companies to build their own charging infrastructure though.

        • Thes

          If there was a regular “market” for taxis, then when I am in DC and see a Red Top cab, I could jump in it and head home to Arlington. However, that is forbidden by law. The Arlington cab must go back empty to Arlington and the DC cab that takes me to Arlington must return empty to DC. If there were going to be charging stations in every jurisdiction in the region, instead of just Arlington, then this might work, but since an Arlington taxi might have to go to BWI and back without charging, it’s a potential problem.

          • Josh S

            But isn’t that the company’s problem?

          • Mick Way

            It’s everyone’s problem if the cab causes an accident as it runs out of charge on the BW Parkway on the way back.

            What I think the CB is saying is EV cabs may or may not be able to operate under the same regulatory structure as gas cabs. Maybe they need a regulation that fines the company or driver if they take a fare with less than X% reserve charge to do the roundtrip. Maybe other regulations need addressing or modifying to accommodate these vehicles.

          • Reply to Thes


            That is not true. An Arlington Cab can pick you up in DC if you are going to Arlington. What they can not do is take you to another place in DC. Whether all drivers know this law is a different issue.

          • Josh S

            But it’s possible for a regular car to run out of gas. Sure, much less likely, but it does happen. So we should fine cabs for running out of gas?

          • CW

            I still dont understand why the County has to block them from even trying. Let them try. The factors to disincentivize them from doing stupid things will be the same as for any other company…bad publicity, etc. I am a fan of govt helping get new technologies off the ground…not hindering them…

        • CW

          Also the statement above that cab companies need to develop the charging infrastructure is not necessarily true. Lots of new commercial buildings are coming with bays. And maybe some private businesses would install them to attract cabs.

    • JamesE

      have to start somewhere

    • mick Way

      I think that’s a real concern. Picture a cabbie that gets a fare to upper NE DC. His meter shows he has barely enough charge to do the roundtrip. He probably should recharge but that takes a half hour or more or whatever. Rather than lose the fare he takes it and runs out on the way back on the 14th st bridge in rush-hour.

      • Josh S

        Fair enough. But are 30 cabs really going to have such a disruptive effect?

        In the meantime, if everyone waits for everyone else to build the infrastructure, it never gets built….

        • Lee-n-Glebe

          I think a scenario more plausible than stalling out and causing accidents would be the service. I am imagining cabbies refusing rides out of range, and with good reason. I like the BWI example. It would probably be impossible to use EV on a trip like that, perhaps even to Dulles. Additionally, depending on how long it takes to charge the cabs, significant portions of the fleet could be out of service for long periods of time.

          • Chad

            I think that is the more salient concern than traffic problems from stalled cabs. It’s the inability to fully serve the market and the creation of sub-tiered service within the industry.

            It complicates the transaction on a lot of different levels and would generally make using taxis more difficult unless and until a reliable infrastructure of charging stations are in place to serve the region.

          • Mick Way

            The AC code states that a cab may not refuse a fare except under very limited circumstances (see http://www.arlingtonva.us/departments/CountyBoard/CountyCode/file74525.pdf) 25.1-17(B)

            So right now there is no way for EV cab to refuse a fare due to lack of range.

          • Josh S

            OK, now we’re getting somewhere. Actual reasons for the board’s decision. Thanks for weighing in, Chad and Mick.
            Surely this law about not being able to refuse rides was known to the applicant. How did they address it?

          • CW

            And you’re really implying that the Board is incapable of modifying the County Code with one simple clause giving exemption to EV cabs?

          • Lee-n-Glebe

            There’s refusal and then there’s refusal. Back in the day when I lived in Fillmore Gardens (Fillmore / Columbia Pike) I could never get Red Top to come get me. There was no refusal, per se, cabbies simply didn’t accept the assignment when it was broadcasted. Similarly, when going home, I had to either lie about my destination or decline to answer the question “where are you going?” until I was actually sitting in the cab.
            Code aside, I think you’d find a lot of assignment avoidance based on range.

  • Adam Smith (not)

    Don’t let the market decide, let the Board decide.

  • ShirlingtonBF

    Hipsters beware: you can’t take the politics out of politics.

  • evyes

    EV has been around for a long time. This was a no-brainer and should have been approved.

    • nom de guerre

      EV Taxicabs is brand new and has yet to provide a ride to anyone-it is just a concept. It is not the same company as enviroCAB.

      • drax

        The technology has been around for a long time though.

        • Your alter ego

          No, you’re wrong. It hasn’t.

  • Chris “I take bribes” Zimmie

    You all collectively seem to forget so quickly: Bribe me and I will deliver at least two voters. Fail to bribe me and you get nothing.

  • JnA

    Really appalling – County Board would not award 5 or 10 licenses for EV vehicles as a test fleet. County Government is completely corrupt.

    • drax

      Corrupt and eeeevil.

  • Roquer

    Can’t have electric cars, gotta have rickshaws instead. Get those bicycles out!!

  • George

    I think we need to put Chris Zimmerman on another all-expenses-paid luxury tour of Europe to find out how other countries don’t have electric taxicabs.

  • JimPB

    The idea of approving a test fleet of 5-10 electric cabs is appealing. But it would mean that the cab company would presumably have to make the same (or close to the same) non-trivail investment in installing charging stations throughout the country as for the much larger proposed fleet. Accordingly, it would be reasonable, desirable and important to have clear, explicit and objectively assessed criteria for determining whether or not the test was successful — or failed, and if the latter, if the problem(s) could be readily resolved so that. if the test was successful or was a failure but the problems could be addressed satisfactorily and the cab company had the resources and will to do so, the company could expect to be approved for the originally proposed larger fleet.

  • ClarendonConservative

    Arlington is forward thinking?? Like planning a trolley system?

  • Skeptical

    I don’t see the risk in granting EV the licenses or increasing the number of licenses. It has potential to add jobs at no cost to the county. I bet the population has increased more than the # of cabs in the past 4 years. The only ones who seem to benefit are the current cab companies and perhaps the trolley supporters on the board and the bikeshare company, which didn’t have the infrastructure in place before approval. SMH

  • Your Mom

    Great decision by the board.

    • John Andre

      Why? Do you prefer the continued use of gas-guzzling, carbon-emitting internal combustion cars?

      • Most of America


      • Your Mom

        Where in my post did I state any of what you assume about my remark. Explain to me why electric cars are better than combustion cars?

  • John Andre

    Bad idea to reject this. The proposal would have established several charging stations throughout the county setting up the infrastructure for future promotion of all-electric vehicles which leave a smaller carbon footprint than internal-combustion vehicles.

    • Your Mom

      Does it leave a smaller carbon footprint? What formula did u use to come to that conclusion? What about the carbon footprint required to get power for the car? It’s worse than or equal to that of a gas powered car. Hybrids are a better bet. The board made a smart decision. As a Arlinton tax payer since 1998, I’m happy about their decision.


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