Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Chicago Should Hail Hybrid Taxi Plan
With $4-a-gallon gas just around the bend, Chicago cabbies are asking the city to approve a fare hike or surcharge that will help take the sting out the drivers' rising energy costs.They'll probably get the increase from Mayor Daley and the City Council, which have to approve a price boost.
But consumers should get something for the effort, too. In return for the higher tariffs, I'd like to see the city pressure cab companies to add many more fuel-efficient hybrid cars to their fleets. The goal: Over a reasonable period, fleets would become all hybrid, all the time.
Already, the city is moving in that direction with an incentive plan. But more could be done to accelerate this needed change, such as linking hybrid purchases to new fare rate increases or cab advertising deals.
Think this is unreasonable and anti-business? Then think again.
Going hybrid is in the reach of New York City, where today Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city's fleet of yellow cabs will go entirely hybrid within the next five years.
Right now, New York has 375 hybrid vehicles among its 13,000 cabs. The number will increase to 1,000 by October 2008 and grow by 20 percent each year until 2012, according to today's Wall Street Journal.
Now if the Bloomberg Administration can muscle up and force the cab companies to go green, so can the Daley Administration. After all, Mayor Daley has achieved international acclaim for being one of the world's most environmentally progressive urban leaders and this is a great way to prove that point.
Yes, the cab companies and drivers--who are mostly independent business people, not employees of the taxi firms--will initially scream bloody murder about this switch. But, if they really research this idea, they'll find it makes a great deal of economic sense and can mean more money in their pockets.
I'd be happy to testify in favor of going hybrid.
For many years, I drove eight-cylinder Jeeps and was proud of it! That all ended when gasoline started zooming to over $3-a-gallon in late 2005 and filling up the tank was costing nearly $45-to-$50 a week.
That financial pinch was a major incentive for dumping the Jeep and buying a 2006 Highlander hybrid, which runs on electricity and gas. Even with gas prices rising now, I pay less at the pump, refill less often and blissfully drive all over the place.
Also, some local parking lots give prime spaces to hybrids--a perk I've come to savor.
(By the way, I am not a Toyota shareholder or investor in any way, so be assured that this is unsolicited testimony.)
My Highlander gets mileage in the city of nearly 30 mpg and even better on the highway. Most of the time, it's a great ride and very responsive. Going zero-to-60 mph is a snap but going 60-to-80 mph is a bit of a strain on the engine (but it gets there). And since I have only front-wheel drive, it can be a hassle in the snow drifts (which is the only time I miss my four-by-four Jeep.)
That's not to say we want Highlander cabs. But ask yourself why do taxis have to be big-ass Ford Crown Victorias or Chevy Impalas? Why not a hybrid Toyota Prius, Ford Escape or other combo-energy cars coming from Honda and GM?
And while I'll grant you that a Prius is not the coolest looking ride, ask yourself how much glitz do you really need from a cab? I'd settle for a clean interior and lower gas fumes.
Come to think of it, why should we limit this to cab companies? Why not city and municipal fleets?
(I'd make an exception for cop and emergency vehicles, which still need the get-up-and-go of conventionally-built engines, until hybrids offer more pop. Also,there are some hybrids already in the muni fleets, but not enough to make a difference.)
Cabbies and their companies will balk at this hybrid suggestion. That's understandable. No one likes to be told what car to buy.
But some of those concerns may go away if the automakers are willing to offer sweet hybrid fleet incentive deals in order to win over the Chicago taxi franchises (which I suspect they'd do). Moreover, maybe the city can give taxi drivers a break on the cost of their medallions if they buy a hybrid.
Sure, the cost of gas may fall back after Memorial Day. But the folks at Exxon Mobil and the other big oil companies know they have us at a disadvantage. Prices will continue to ratchet up for the foreseeable future.
One way not to get caught over a barrel is to drive around it--preferably in a hybrid taxi.