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The battle to clean up London’s cab scene is hotting up

17 April 2014 #Features & Interviews #Logistics #News

Boris Johnson has spoken. London’s Mayor wants Central London to be an Ultra-Low Emission Zone by 2020 and the capital’s iconic (mostly black) cabs will have to play their part.

He is adamant that all new London taxis presented for licensing from January 2018 onwards will have to be zero-emission capable; in other words, they will have to be able to run solely on battery power in certain areas of Britain’s biggest city. London already has almost 1,400 charging points and should have 6,000 by 2018.

Conscious that they too need to take action in the wake of the European Commission’s decision to launch legal proceedings against the UK over air quality levels, other urban authorities are watching what happens in the capital with keen interest.

Manufacturers are already busy developing cabs that meet Johnson’s requirements and that keep with the traditional profile and style of London taxis.

Among a number of companies vying for a share of the London taxi market are Ecotive  and Fraser-Nash Research , both of which have UK facilities. They have developed the Range Extended Electric (REE) Metrocab fitted with a lithium-ion battery, an electric motor for each of the rear wheels and a 1.0-litre petrol range-extender engine coupled to a generator.

“Instantly recognisable as a London cab, with a panoramic glass roof for views of the city, it offers for no price premium completely new levels of economy, emissions and passenger comfort and is ready to enter service this year,” says Metrocab Chairman, Sir Charles Masefield.

With CO2 emissions set at a modest 50g/km, Metrocab is more than three times more fuel-efficient than conventional London taxis says the manufacturer and should typically save the driver between £30 and £40 a day. It can be recharged at home from a standard domestic power supply and has a claimed range of up to 350 miles.

Metrocab will not have things all its own way however.

Already a major investor in UK plc, Nissan is working with Coventry-based ADV Manufacturing to produce its new Taxi for London set to appear on the capital’s streets at the end of the year.

The two companies are setting up a taxi factory in the city, which has a long history of cab production, in a £6m joint venture marking a further boost for the UK automotive industry. The base vehicle will be shipped over from Spain for final assembly at the Midlands plant where it will be fitted with new bodywork with a taxi-type interior plus revised suspension and steering.

Based on the NV200 platform, Taxi for London has been designed in London for London by Nissan Design Europe in Paddington, which is also responsible for the Qashqai and the Juke.

The first model to roll off the line ready for delivery in December will be petrol-powered. Nissan will launch an all-electric version in 2015 with the batteries manufactured in Sunderland.

The Nissan/ADV project is being supported with a loan of nearly £4m through the Advanced Manufacturing and Supply Chain Initiative, the UK government’s job creation fund for manufacturing.

Also based in Coventry, and acquired by Chinese manufacturer Geely just over a year ago, The London Taxi Company plans to have a compliant vehicle by the start of 2018.

“We will meet this challenge by offering a new, purpose-built, plug-in range-extended electric hybrid taxi,” promises Executive Vice-President, Peter Johansen.

Other potential competitors include Mercedes-Benz and Turkish manufacturer Karsan.

Mercedes-Benz is already selling its Vito as a cab in London, and with significant success. A new Vito will appear later this year and is likely to be available in electric guise following on from the development of a battery-powered version of the existing model.

Karsan has already exhibited its pure-electric Concept V1 cab in London with a claimed range between recharges of from 80 to 100 miles. It is designed by sister company, Hexagon Design, and comes with a glass roof too.

Just as London’s 25,000 licensed cab drivers are obliged to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the city’s streets, the taxis they drive have to comply with certain requirements. Among them is a 25ft turning circle; something that all the foregoing manufacturers say they can meet, in some cases by using a rear-steer axle.

Taxis and the people who drive them are not always subject to such strict regulations in other cities around Europe. No matter where within the European Union they are however, all urban authorities are conscious that they too could face legal action by the Commission if they fail to meet stringent air quality standards.

Electric Nissan e-NV200 cabs will soon start being seen on the streets of Barcelona.

They will be built in a local factory and Nissan is to help the authorities set up a network of quick chargers for cab drivers to use. The chargers can bring a battery back to 80% of its capacity in only 30 minutes says the manufacturer.

Like Boris Johnson, Barcelona mayor Xavier Trias is a big fan of electric urban transport. “This pioneering scheme will improve the welfare of the city’s people,” he observes.

Returning to London, what about zero-emission chauffeur-driven private hire vehicles?

They are not being neglected, with Thriev putting 20 Chinese-built electric BYD e6 cars into service, which are estimated to have a range of up to 186 miles apiece.

They join two all-electric BYD single-decker buses already in service with Go-Ahead on two central London routes. Thriev offers an app for Apple and Android devices that allows customers to book a trip in one of its cars in just a few clicks.

Johnson has taken steps to clean up London’s existing fleet of cabs. A 15-year age limit was introduced in January 2012 along with a requirement that all newly-licensed cabs must meet Euro 5 emissions as a minimum, and more than 3,000 of the city’s most-polluting taxis have now gone.

Furthermore, Transport for London has launched a campaign to persuade cab drivers not to allow their engines to idle wastefully at taxi ranks. While few drivers heed the advice, if it catches on the idea will help cut air pollution and save money on fuel bills.

All in all, London is making huge strides to clean up the taxi scene ahead of ever more stringent EU regulations coming in, and the proactive stance government has taken will see London and the UK start to breathe easier as the transport sector becomes ever cleaner.

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