Taxis: The Transition to All-Electric

In November, the UK Government announced an eye-catching measure to deal with climate change: a ban on the sale of diesel and petrol vehicles. The prospective ban applies only to vehicles entirely powered through fossil fuels, meaning that hybrids may still be available even after the ban has come into force. But this is a distinction without a practical difference; a meagre sprinkling of hybrid vehicles isn’t enough to sustain a filling station infrastructure, or to keep the price of fuel at a practical level.

This year-upon-year improvements in the vehicles themselves will also help to push motorists in the direction of an EV. Battery efficiencies are improving with each successive generation, and when the much-vaunted solid-state battery becomes a practical reality, the transition away from fossil fuels is only likely to accelerate. Motorists up and down the country are driving the last petrol-powered car they’ll ever own.

The pressures that are driving motorists toward EV apply especially to taxi drivers, who are racking up considerable mileage, and often driving through city centres where emissions limitations are in force. Whenever mileage improves, taxi drivers are the people who benefit most, and thus they’re under the greatest pressure to adopt early. We might thus see specialised high-capacity taxis begin to appear in EV form over the coming decade.

Ride-hailing app Uber has already made clear its intention to switch to EVs. By 2030, it says, every Uber driver in the US, Canada, and Europe will be driving an EV. By 2040, this practice will have spread to everywhere in the world. In certain parts of America, the company has already implemented a special system of charges. Fares can pay a little more to request an electric vehicle – and drivers using particular kinds of electric vehicle are able to collect more for each ride they provide.

This is roughly representative of the company’s broader approach, which favours reward rather than punishment for EV adoption. The company judges that the coming transition will be enormous and unavoidable – and thus it’s better to create positive incentives rather than negative ones.

What about Range Anxiety?

One of the considerations that’s holding many would-be EV drivers back from adopting is the availability of charging infrastructure. Taxi drivers in particular might need access not just to charging station, but to an ultra-rapid charging station, offering in excess of 100kW. The faster the charging, after all, the less downtime for the car. This, along with improvements in battery capacity and longevity, might help to dispel the fear of being stranded.

In 2020, the number of charging points in the UK broke through the 30,000 barrier for the first time. This was after having broke through the 20,000 barrier the previous year. A point of critical mass may have already been reached, where providing charging points is now seen as a more sensible investment in the long-term than a fuel station. If these trends persist, we may see EVs take over well before the mooted 2030 deadline.