London's black cab goes plug-in (Review)

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I’m unlikely to ever drive this thing, and yet this might be one of the most important car review videos I’ve seen in a very long time. From carbon neutrality to zero emission fuel cells, we’ve covered various schemes for cleaning up London’s taxi emissions.

But now things are about to start changing in a major way.

The TX Electric Taxi is a fully redesigned vehicle from the ground up, and will be replacing the TX4 which was designed back in 1997 and ran on a noisy, dirty diesel engine. The new TX Electric, by contrast, offers around 80 miles of fully electric range plus a petrol-driven range extender that adds another 320 miles before a driver has to either plug in or fuel up. That’s a significant amount of range, as Jonny Smith notes in the video below, because the average speed of taxis in London is about 8 or 9 miles an hour, meaning it will be possible to drive around for most of the day without ever having to fuel up. (The fast charge port can also add about 80% of range in 20 to 25 minutes!)

Other features worth noting:
—The cab is fully designed for wheelchair accessibility
—There’s a massive moonroof to allow passengers to gawk at Big Ben
—There are USB charging ports everywhere, so your kids can continue to ignore Big Ben and charge up their tablets
—And the black cab’s famously tight turning circle has been maintained too

Also worth noting is that the London Electric Vehicle Company is projecting £100 (US$140) of savings per week in running costs, while the leases are only £10 (US$14) a week higher than for the existing TX4. Given the fact that the cabbie owner-operators are running a business, this makes for a pretty compelling case for switching—even before improved user experience or driver comfort are factored in. (A word of caution: The YouTube comments section has some cabbies questioning these savings numbers and the affordability.)

As for us environmentalists, there are several reasons to celebrate this milestone over and above much of the other overhyped electric vehicle news:

First and foremost, these vehicles will be replacing cars which drive day-in-and-day-out and get, according to Jonny Smith cabbie mate, something like 20 to 22 mpg. By contrast, even with the range extender running on full, the new TX Electric Taxi gets around 50 mpg—and most of the time it will be running in all electric mode.

Secondly, the environment in which taxis operate ought to be ground zero for electrification, given both the predominantly stop-start nature of driving and the large number of human beings around you sucking in your fumes.

And finally, taxis are the original sharing economy—so anything that makes their operation more cost effective, pleasant and attractive should help build, or maintain, a culture where personal car ownership is superfluous.

It’s all very exciting stuff, and I’m now increasingly excited for my next trip to London where I hope I’ll have the good fortune of hailing one of these gracious beasts. Or, at least, not breathing in their fumes.

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