The new Governmeent is expected to bring ever-increasing pressure on the taxi industry to switch from its current diesel-heavy fleet to electric cars.
As with consumers and business fleets, taxi operators have been put on the same 10-year notice that sales of petrol and diesel cars will end in 2030, and all new-car purchases will have to be electric. The Programme for Government, however, takes special aim at taxis, saying that: “The taxi fleet has a disproportionate impact on air quality and climate emissions in urban centres.” The three parties go on to say that they will continue to support “the greening of the fleet” and will continue to provide financial incentives to switch to both battery-electric vehicles (EVs) as well as plugin-hybrid vehicles.
With taxis having much higher mileages than an average private car, they are seen as a crucial battleground in the fight against climate change, as a greater impact can be had from a smaller number of vehicles switching to electric power.
Currently, there are significant financial supports for anyone wanting to purchase an electric car for use as a taxi. For a new car (and any car up to three months old qualifies) receives a €10,000 SPSV (Small Public Service Vehicle) grant. That grant steps back for second-hand cars, down to a minimum of €6,000 for a vehicle up to four years old.
If the car is wheelchair accessible, then the maximum grant rises to €12,500 while for plugin-hybrid vehicles there is a maximum €5,000 grant.
While plans are still fluid here will almost certainly be a flip-side to such supports, in the form of penalties and extra costs for those continuing to use petrol or diesel models.
The criticism coming from the taxi industry is not that the pressure being applied is wrong, but that the supports are not focusing on the right areas. "Grants could be better utilised for taxis if the focus was put onto finance" says Vinny Kearns, general secretary of the Taxi Dispatch Operator's Representative Association (TDORA). Mr Kearns told The Irish Times: "It would be better if taxis could get access to finance for vehicles at zero or very low interest, and that finance could be Government-funded."
There are also significant issues with the electric vehicles that are being passed by the regulator as fit for taxi service, with Mr Kearns pointing out that the compact Renault Zoe had recently been approved for SPSV use, but the larger Tesla Model 3 has not. "The Zoe is not suitable as a taxi," Kearns told The Irish Times. "It has very little boot space, and it's too tight in the cabin for four passengers. So we haven't got enough choice of vehicles at the moment, and what is an issue, still, is range anxiety."
That range anxiety has already led to grumblings from customers in instances where electric taxis, responding to a booking, have had to complete journeys at very low speeds because they have been unable to find a working charging point. "We definitely need more charging points" says Kearns. "And it would be helpful if, maybe, the ESB could set things up so that taxi operators can charge at public points for the same cost they'd have charging at home."
Typically, we're already falling behind our Nordic cousins in this regard. Just this week, Jaguar announced that it was partnering with taxi operators and the city authorities in Oslo. The project will see Jaguar supply 25 modified I-Pace electric cars, which can be charged wirelessly from pads embedded into taxi ranks. The idea is that the Jaguar taxis can top-up their batteries while waiting for their next fare. Norway wants all of its capital's taxis to be fully-electric by 2024.
Pressure on taxi operators won’t just come from the Government. Increasingly, it will come from both the public and those behind the all-powerful taxi booking apps.
Alan Fox, regional general manager at Free Now told The Irish Times: "We welcome the Programme for Government's pledge to green the taxi fleet, and later in the year we plan to announce a number of very significant initiatives aimed at encouraging further take up of greener vehicles. An improvement in air quality is one of the only silver linings from this terrible global crisis, and we want to ensure that as the country opens up again we do not see an increase in congestion and pollution from people using their private cars. Now more than ever, as we see people being more cautious due to Covid-19, companies, government and drivers need to work together to speed up the switch to electric vehicles."
The biggest pressure of all could be that of simple economics. According to data from environmental think-tank Transport & Environment (T&E) electric taxis are fast becoming much cheaper to operate than diesel-engined ones. A survey carried out across five major European cities showed that, on average, electric taxis are 14 per cent cheaper to run, while in Paris, because of cheaper electricity, lower EV retail prices and higher purchase incentives, that figure rises to 24 per cent, saving operators as much as €3,000 each year over a diesel car.
Yoann Le Petit, new mobility expert with T&E, said: "This is a win-win-win situation for drivers, citizens and the planet. The sooner Uber and taxis go 100 per cent electric, the sooner citizens will enjoy cleaner air and quieter neighbourhoods, the planet will have less climate-wrecking emissions and drivers will earn more money. Cities have a crucial role in the ecological transition, providing the right incentives so drivers switch to EVs, and building up the charging network so they can operate easily."