More than half of New York City’s fleet of 13,437 taxis, many of which run 24 hours a day and log 120,000 kilometres a year, are hybrids, cutting carbon emissions by 190,000 tonnes a year.
In Toronto, city council has decreed all taxis whose five-year lifespan is up be replaced by a hybrid or alternative-fuel vehicle starting in June, with the aim of transforming the entire fleet. If successful, it’s estimated drivers will save $19 million a year in fuel costs, and greenhouse gas emissions emitted by their 4,800 taxis will be reduced by 25 per cent annually.
In Montreal, the city’s Bureau de taxi that oversees the city’s 4,431 cabs has no idea how many of the city’s taxis are hybrids, but estimates for 2012 put the figure at less than 10. Montreal has no plan to implant changes before 2020.
While other cities either started the switch years ago to hybrids, which run partially on battery-fed electric power and burn far less gas, or have drawn up plans to do so, Montreal just stalled, councillor Marvin Rotrand said.
“We missed the entire debate about a greener fleet. ... We are years behind schedule and hardly anything has been done.”
There are signs market forces are doing the job city council has not, however, with taxi companies reporting a minor upsurge in the number of hybrids purchased by drivers in 2013, influenced by higher gas prices.
Rotrand is presenting a motion proposing that city council affirm it wants the majority of its taxis to be hybrids or ecological, and that the Bureau de taxi create a plan by the end of this year.
This is old territory for Rotrand. In 2007 he asked that the city implement a fully hybrid fleet by 2012, mimicking a plan initiated by New York’s former mayor Michael Bloomberg, who promised all the city’s taxis would be hybrid by 2012. Since taxis are heavily used, the change would be equal to taking 32,000 privately owned cars off the road, Bloomberg said.
Bloomberg’s vision was stymied by a lawsuit filed and won by the city’s taxi owners’ industry that initially balked at buying costlier hybrids. But New York’s cabbies discovered the hybrid Ford Escapes were reliable and getting 34 miles per gallon, compared with 14 in their old Crown Victorias, and started buying them en masse.
In response to a public consultation on the taxi industry in Montreal, the city’s executive committee said in 2011 it was “favourable” to the idea that Montreal create an obligatory ecological taxi program by 2020.
That would mean the city’s fleet would not change until 2025, Rotrand said.
Montreal’s Bureau de taxi said this month it has no specific project in regards to hybrid taxis.
Many Montreal drivers, most of whom own their own taxis, are going green in the face of gas prices approaching $1.50 a litre.
At Atlas Taxi, which has 200 cars in its fleet, 22 drivers switched to hybrids in 2013. In 2012 there were none, manager Michael Monfared said.
At Taxi Diamond, which has 1,100 cars and 2,500 drivers, about 30 drivers went hybrid in 2013. Hybrid owners, who typically spend $40 to $50 a day on gas, figure they are saving $10 to $20 a day, and $3,000 to $5,000 a year. Maintenance costs are less because the brakes get less use, and fears of short battery life have been unfounded. But for taxi drivers to be able to afford a hybrid Toyota Camry at $29,605 that uses 4.5 litres per 100 kilometres (as opposed to a non-hybrid Camry, which costs $25,595 and uses almost twice as much gas) the provincial government must offer more incentives, Taxi Diamond president Dominique Roy said. Especially for cash-strapped Montreal cabbies who often opt for a $12,000 used car.
Quebec offered a subsidy of $2,000 for hybrids since 2007, used by 358 taxi drivers over six years throughout the province, L’Écho de Trois-Rivières reported in 2013. A quarter of the taxis in the Trois-Rivières region are hybrids.
Under its transportation electrification strategy, the Parti Québécois government pledged a $3,000 subsidy for cabbies buying hybrids, up to a maximum of 200 cars. At press time, Transport Quebec was looking to see if the subsidy was still offered.
Aref Salem, Montreal executive committee member responsible for transport, said the city is waiting to see if Quebec will continue to offer a subsidy for taxi drivers before they make any decisions concerning taxis. He also said the city would like to see the network of charging stations for electric vehicles improved in the hope of inciting some cab owners to buy electric vehicles.
“I would say that two out of every three taxi drivers I know are thinking of switching,” said George Ghafari, a Montreal cabbie with 25 years experience whose next car will be his first hybrid. “With the price of gas, it doesn’t make sense not to.”