The electric cab race is hotting up with the London Taxi Company, Metrocab and Nissan all releasing models in the near future. But is the charging infrastructure there to support their release?
From the start of 2018, no non-zero emission taxis will be licensed by TfL. Cabbies are being offered £7,500 towards purchasing a zero emissions capable taxi and an extra £5,000 for scrapping their old cab. However, if they’re not convinced of the ability to charge their taxis conveniently, cabbies will be unlikely to swap willingly.
When surveyed, range anxiety is cited by almost 50% of standard vehicle drivers as their reason for not swapping. With their livelihoods depending on being able to operate freely, cabbies will be even more sensitive to the fear of running out of juice and wasting crucial time either waiting or searching for a charger.
A 22kw charge point will provide approximately 80% of a battery’s life in one hour. Yet at the time of writing, zap-map.com shows only eight such charge points in central London. The Government is providing £18 million in funding to upgrade the power grid and facilitate the installation of 75 new points by the end of 2017. The overall target is for 300 to be in place by 2020. That equates to about one charge point for every 77 cabbies. Not to mention the fact that over 100,000 licensed private hire drivers will eventually require similar access.
TfL has selected five companies to source suitable spaces and install the ‘Superfast’ charge points near popular cabbie cafes and rest stops. With land in London at a premium, many fear they will encounter significant obstacles and the timetable could slip.
Steve McNamara of the LTDA estimates that the average cabbie travels 120 miles per day. The range of the new TX 5 will be 70 miles plus but it will be a hybrid so range anxiety can be reduced. Yet, as the Government’s stated aim is to reduce emissions in central London, having cabbies invest heavily in new vehicles only for them to have to resort to using fossil fuels very much defeats the purpose.
How does London’s Charge Point infrastructure compare nationally?
In March 2017, the Department for Transport announced that 10 cities will be receiving £14 million in funding for the installation of electric vehicle rapid charge points. We’ve taken two of the regions at random to compare the charge point to vehicle ratio.
Birmingham will receive £2.9 million to create 200 charge points, catering for the needs of 1,229 Hackney Carriage vehicles and 4,060 private hire vehicles. With an EU fine of £60 million looming due to the dangerous poor air quality, the council is said to be considering revoking the licences of the oldest vehicles. The funding will provide a ratio of around 26 vehicles per charge point.
Yorkshire has received £1.9 million in funding from the Office of Low Emission Vehicles. This will allow for 88 charge points to be installed in Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield and York, with the intention of converting 500 diesel taxis and petrol private hire vehicles to hybrid and pure electric vehicles by 2020. That equates to 5.7 vehicles per charge point.
So, by comparison, London cabbies appear at least 3 times worse off than their Birmingham counterparts and over 13 times compared to taxi drivers in Yorkshire. It’s not clear whether the regional charge points will be available to general motorists as well as taxis, but with only 110,000 electric vehicles currently (as of July 2017) on the UK’s roads, the ratio in the short term is unlikely to change dramatically.
What are the alternatives or contingencies for cabbies?
There is hope that private investment will see charge point numbers increase dramatically in the near future. The likes of big supermarkets and NCP car parks have been given as examples of locations that are potentially suitable for chargers, as are existing petrol stations. Though as they would be doing so for commercial purposes, a higher price of charging could undermine the projected running cost reductions of electric cabs that make them potentially attractive to drivers in the long term.
Councils are also experimenting with tech companies to install charge points in lamp posts. This sounds an incredibly convenient solution to the problem. Yet the substantial difference in the power required between the two appliances still needs to be overcome and no doubt will also require large amounts of funding.
The Government are offering homeowners £500 towards the £1,000 cost of installing an electric vehicle charger. So, taxi drivers could charge at home on their off-time, and top up during the day or resort to traditional fuel before returning home. However, with many cabbies in London living in properties without driveways, this isn’t necessarily an option.
Could tech provide the answer?
With only around 4,000 public charge points nationwide currently, and this figure only estimated to rise to approximately 6,000 in 2018, a new peer-to-peer platform called ‘Chargie’ could provide vital access to electricity for EV drivers.
The App will enable homeowners to upload their details for free and set their own recharging price. Drivers can then sign in at available points and make a booking request. This could be very convenient for any taxi driver that lives nearby in either a flat or terraced house without access to their own charge point.
Is there any other choice?
An LPG conversion of a TX2 model is another option that may appeal to the cabbie community. At around £8,700 with a 5-year licence extension available from TfL, cabbies doing so could provide a bridging step whilst they wait for any kinks in the new technology to be ironed out. Though there isn’t exactly an abundance of LPG fueling stations either.
For London’s cabbies, the infrastructure being provided by TfL appears entirely insufficient if large numbers take the plunge and adopt the tech earlier than expected. Additional rapid charge points need to come from somewhere but the commercial market appears to be in a chicken and egg situation.
Private companies may be resisting stumping up the funding for charge points in suitable sites until significant numbers of drivers can be seen to be turning to electric. And drivers will continue to resist swapping to electric vehicles in vast swathes until they see sufficient charging infrastructure in place.