• Oct 25th 2010 at 1:00PM
  • 7
San Francisco is leading the way in reducing taxi greenhouse gas emissions, and part of the movement was spearheaded not by a politician, but by a taxi driver. Thirteen years ago, Paul Gillespie was the first cabbie to occupy the seat allocated to a driver in the newly formed 7-person San Francisco Taxi Commission. At the commission's very first meeting, Gillespie, who has been concerned about the environment since high school, recommended that clean taxis be placed on the agenda.

Using his close relationship with cab company managers, Gillespie was able to convince two companies, Yellow Cab and Luxor Cab, to include 10 and five Ford Escape Hybrids, respectively, to their fleets when that vehicle hit the market in 2004. The number has since grown to 801 hybrid or natural gas vehicles due to a carefully drawn ordinance created by Gillespie, Mayor Gavin Newsom, the city government and the taxi companies.

The crux of the successful ordinance was a $7.50 raise in the rental fee, called a gate, a driver pays to the cab company per shift for hybrid and other low-emission taxis. Drivers save $20-40 per shift on gas by driving such vehicles, which more than pays for the increased rental cost. The additional gate fee received by the cab companies adds up, over three years, to the exact cost difference between buying a used Crown Victoria police car, which gets 9-10 miles per gallon, and a Ford Escape Hybrid, rated at 30 mpg city driving. The gate, along with other local and federal incentives, makes it difficult for cab companies not to choose to purchase hybrids or natural gas vehicles for their fleets. How successful has the program been? As of March 2010, San Francisco's taxi fleet was halfway to being all hybrid and natural gas.

[Source: Hybrid Cars| Image: Ian Fuller – C.C. License 2.0]

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      As an Escape Hybrid SF Taxicab driver myself, I know from experience that twice the cabs are necessary if there are more than four in the party. I wonder how much of a carbon footprint is left because twice the amount of taxis have to do the work that one van once did?

      This project was passed before its time. Are all service vehicles hybrid? Why does the financial burden of this experiment fall only on the taxi industry?

      New hybrid cabs are not cheap so new medallion holders are financially obligated as a fleet cab instead of being more independent.

      I have lots to say about this but my taxi beckons me.
      • 4 Years Ago
      The same program exists in Phoenix, but in much smaller numbers.

      Discount cab charges their drivers a higher gate fee for their hybrid vehicles, but, once again, the drivers get that money back in gas savings by the end of the shift. Hybrids have become the preferred vehicle for drivers at discount cab as a result.

      Unfortunately, in Phoenix, the hybrids still represent a much smaller percentage of the cabs on the road compared to San Francisco.


      With that many hybrid cabs on the road, do we have more data about battery performance????
        • 4 Years Ago
        Hybrids have done very well, not just the Escape, but also the Prius. Reliability has also been much better with hybrids, the lower maintenance costs also adds up, too.

        Almost all the taxis in San Jose (30 miles south of SF) are either natural gas fueled or Prius hybrids.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Wait, how did natural gas numbers slip in there? The article started talking about hybrids and then switched gears.

      How many are hybrid, and how many are natural gas?
      How much less fuel do the natural gas vehicles burn?
      • 4 Years Ago
      Nobody really cares about the climate anymore. It's all about Energy Independence, paying for less foreign fossil fuel; Improving national security. THAT is what people care about.

      Economy. Security. Independence.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I am a SF cab driver and my used crown victoria Police Intercepter gets 15 in the city and 20 on the highway. the only way a Crown Vic would get that bad of millage (9-10 miles a gallon) would be if it were very poorly maintained and since SF has cab inspections this dose not happen and almost all taxi cabs are well maintained.

      In addition because of a flood of crown victoria's they are perhaps the cheapest car to repair and maintain on the market and when they are involved in low speed accidents they can be repaired for a few hundred dollars if not less. Hybrid vehicles often using unibody construction are much more expensive to repair.

      Also most cab drivers I know of say they can make more money in a crown vic than a hybrid because customers prefer them and they are more recognizable.

      even your sister site autoblog wrote an article about this


      most used crown victoria's are bought for $2000-$4000 dollars and can last a cab company 200,000 miles or more if they are not in a major accident and their maintenance costs are minimal compared to hybrid vehicles which often start at $20,000 or above bought brand new.

      My last Crown VIctoria had 400,000 miles on it before it was taken out of service and served me well. The best solution and an even more green one would be to support the conversion of the millions of Crown Victoria's to Compressed Natural Gas. which would create near zero emissions and allow cab drivers the option of keeping the crown victoria.

      While I do appreciate your article and the spotlight on the SF taxi business I feel your piece left out these points. converting the SF taxi business to hybrids has not been perfect and there are drawbacks the tone of your article suggests the switch to hybrids has no down sides and as a cab driver I assure you it has.

      I look forward to reading your next article.

      • 4 Years Ago
      So it actually pays for itself. Now that is what I call a good program.

      It seems like any fleet vehicles would be a good target because they have to deal with the actual TCO vs. worrying about the up front sticker cost for everything they buy.
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