Up to 90 per cent of taxi cabs in Australia's biggest cities are hybrid – after decades of LPG-powered Holdens and Fords – but now some operators are experimenting with pure electric power.
There are at least five fully electric taxi cabs in use in NSW – BYD E6 models imported from China – and more are under consideration.
A driver interviewed by CarAdvice said the electric taxis can travel up to 400km before needing to be fully recharged, and metro Sydney-based cabs travel about half that distance during most shifts.
"It takes about one hour to recharge after a shift on the fast charger, and then it's ready for the next person," said the driver, who asked to remain anonymous. "I like it because for now the electricity is free, so it saves me on petrol, plus there is almost no servicing other than tyres, so it's off the road for less time."
The driver we spoke to had been a cabbie for 15 years, starting in LPG-powered Ford Falcons before moving onto a series of Toyota Camry Hybrids. He has been driving the BYD E6 electric taxi (pictured below) since late last year, and says he won't go back to a hybrid.
Another driver, with 25 years experience, who also spoke to CarAdvice but asked to remain anonymous, said he has spent most of his career in LPG-powered cabs but was one of the first to embrace hybrid technology.
"The Camry Hybrids are good, especially now that Toyota has fixed the boot," he said. "The battery pack used to take up too much space, but now it's hidden and we can get more luggage in. The fuel economy is better than LPG, and it's cheaper to run and smoother to drive."
However, even though he was watching his mate "fill up" his electric car for free thanks to a fast charger at the taxi holding area at Sydney airport, the Toyota Camry Hybrid driver said he wasn't in a rush to switch to a fully electric vehicle.
"What happens if you get a big job and you need to go out of the city?" he said, before his electric-car colleague explained he had been from Sydney airport to the Central Coast and back (a three-hour, 200km round trip of mostly freeway driving) and made it back to base with just 20km range to spare. "That was close, but lucky I had just fully charged the car."
Other countries are considering mandating that taxi cabs switch to full electric power, but experts in Australia say local recharging infrastructure is not yet ready to support it.
Norway's capital city, Oslo, recently announced it would make all taxi cabs emissions-free by the first quarter of 2024 (partnering with Jaguar to roll out wireless charging in the process).
However, it could be some time before Australia follows suit. Speaking to CarAdvice, 13cabs CEO Andrew Skelton said 90 per cent of all the fleet is already hybrid.
"It would be 100 per cent [hybrid] but 10 per cent of our fleet is dedicated to servicing people with wheelchairs and scooters and (vans) like the Toyota HiAce are the best vehicles for that," said Mr Skelton.
"We can't buy hybrid Camrys quick enough, " said Mr Skelton, "And now with the hybrid RAV4 – its size, comfort, luggage space – that's where we see the uptake heading. It's going to be our next most sought-after car."
While Mr Skelton said he was aware of one 13cabs operator with plans to add a Tesla vehicle to its fleet, that would be "the exception, not the rule", because "cost and confidence" were barriers to all-electric vehicle uptake in the cab industry.
"[With Toyota's hybrids] our drivers are genuinely getting about 800km out of a tank that costs $55 and that is in a well-built, highly dependable unit that they have every confidence in. They dream of the big trips and they’re getting a few with the airlines out of action, so they don’t want that [range] anxiety," Mr Skelton explained.
"The utilisation rate of cabs also doesn’t lend itself to being parked for an hour or so to charge."
Phil Streten, CEO of Gange Corporation, the company that owns Silver Top Taxis, agreed hybrids are the best option for operators looking to optimise profitability.
"We don’t have any fully electric cars but we have quite a high percentage of hybrids – between 40 and 50 per cent – and that's because the operating economics are favourable, it’s a smart thing to do as a taxi operator," Mr Streten told CarAdvice.
"It’s mostly Toyota Camrys because other hybrids and electric cars are too small. Putting aside Tesla cars, which are very expensive, electric cars like the Nissan Leaf are great but they’re too small to operate as taxis and they're also reasonably expensive if you put them up against a hybrid.
"The recharging [is also a barrier] – none of this electric stuff is going to work until we have open access free charging. Some of these cars have 500km of range but, still, you don’t want to be halfway to the airport watching it run down."
When contacted by Caradvice, Uber Australia was unable to provide specific numbers on the proportion of its drivers utilising electric or hybrid vehicles, but a spokesperson said:"We see the transport industry moving towards a shared, electric future and will continue working with industry and governments to increase electric vehicle uptake in Australia, and ensure they can be a practical and economic choice.”
While countries such as Norway and the United Kingdom have begun setting targets and incentives for electric vehicle uptake in Australia – with specific mandates for public transport providers and fleet operators – Australia doesn't have any similar policies in place on a national scale and we're unlikely to see them anytime soon.
Instead, according to the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor, the Federal Government is focusing on facilitating the development of charging infrastructure and maintaining consumer choice.
"As we recover from COVID-19, the Government is taking a ‘technology not taxes’ approach to reducing emissions," Minister Taylor said in a statement to CarAdvice.
"That means reducing emissions without imposing new costs on households, businesses or the economy. Development of electric, hybrid and fuel-cell vehicles is being driven by the world’s largest car manufacturers.
"Many of these technologies are rapidly advancing to cost parity when compared to existing alternatives, so the Government’s role is to support consumer choice of these future fuel technologies."
Mr Skelton of 13cabs agreed the government's involvement was not necessary to ensure the proliferation of electric cars.
"I think there are better uses of the government’s money. The vehicle industry will find its way to electric, it doesn’t need to be sponsored," Mr Skelton said.
"Public transport, roads for all motorists, safety initiatives, support for people with disabilities, support for lower income or people under financial pressure, people who are isolated by lack of transport options, people disadvantaged by lack of access to transport – those are other priorities that require support."
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