Michigan Green Cabs has a dozen 2008 model year Toyota Prius hybrids in its fleet.
It’s no surprise that with “Green That” and “Green This” catching the public- and especially the media’s – fancy, that the concept of Green taxi cabs would not be far behind.
My attention was drawn to this a few months ago by sighting, within a few minutes, several different-make hybrid “Green Taxis” while visiting my daughter in Arlington, Virginia, a suburb of Washington D.C. I spotted taxi versions of Ford Fusion, Toyota Prius and Camry, and Honda Accords – presumably all hybrids – according to their obvious “green” branding paint schemes.
Tracking down facts about them was a different matter. The loudest voice among hybrids because of Prius sales, Toyota, professed to have no fleet sales department and no overall knowledge of hybrid taxis.
It turned out that there was a green taxi fleet operating right under my nose in Oakland County, Michigan, for all practical purposes part of Motor City.
Indeed, from her volunteer work at a neighborhood hospital, my wife called my attention to a local Green taxi company summoned when visitors or discharged patients asked that a cab be called for them.
This is significant because the Beaumont Hospital System is the largest employer in Oakland County. With nearly 13,700 employees, Beaumont has been the county’s #1 employer since General Motors shut down its various manufacturing plants in and around Pontiac. Not even the Chrysler headquarters in Auburn Hills has more employees than the hospital.
It turned out that Michigan Green Cabs has a fleet of a dozen 2008 Toyota Prius cabs, according to general manager Ryan Tobias. In addition to Beaumont Hospital, the cab company also has contracted for taxi services with more than 20 suburban Detroit hotels, including the boutiquey Townsend Hotel in Birmingham favored by visiting Hollywood types and major league ball players.
Michigan Green Cabs rates ($2.50/mi up to 20 miles, $2.25 per over 20) work out to a significant savings over conventional cabs or limo companies. For example, the tab for going to Detroit Metro Airport from the Townsend in the greenie is $65 while a Town Car limo would set you back $85.
The company boasts that it is “saving the planet one ride at a time” and is “anything but your typical cab company.” Customers of Michigan Green Cab report high satisfaction with their rides, noting particularly that they are cleaner and newer than most cabs (no surprise since most Ford Crown Victoria cabs were police cars in their prior lives), and that the drivers are especially courteous, tributes to the cab company rather than the vehicle.
Veterans of the business, the Tobias family has been operating this particular enterprise since May 2008. They bought the cars from dealers “all over the country” with no special deal from Toyota. General Manager Tobias told me that he picked Prius for the cab fleet rather than a Camry Hybrid or Fusion Hybrid “because it was bigger on the inside.”
Technically, he was correct because that is how the SAE “recommended practice” for measuring interior dimensions makes it come out, with Prius passenger-plus-cargo space amounting to 115.3 cubic feet and classification by the EPA as a “family” car, same as Camry and Fusion. The SAE-measured Prius cargo space comes to 21.6 cu. ft., more than the 20.7 of a Crown Vic, the most familiar cab in North America.
Realistically, though, Prius passenger space is cramped compared to a Crown Vic, the rear seat width, or shoulder room, being only 53 inches vs. the CV’s 60. Three big people can sit comfortably in the back seat of the “big Ford,” but would be, well, seven inches tighter in a Prius. Put another way, two couples wanting a comfortable taxi ride would have to summon two Priuses but only one Crown Vic.
Okay, so maybe a Prius is not the ideal green taxi. Indeed, Ford has been pushing its Escape Hybrid as the green cab of choice,
Of the nearly 13,400 cabs licensed by New York City at the beginning of 2010, an astounding 2,465 were Escape or Mariner Hybrids, versus 296 Camry Hybrids, 263 Altima Hybrids, 155 Highlander Hybrids, 75 Malibu Hybrids, 70 Prius, 6 Lexus RX 400H and a single Civic Hybrid. Of Crown Victoria cabs in NYC, there were 8,473.
The taxi scene in America’s big cities is going to change radically—and sooner than you might think. Look for a subsequent article on the coming changes in the nation’s taxi fleet.