The weird thing is how it took so long for cab companies to take heed of a very simple equation: higher gas mileage = more profit. Is there some competitive advantage to larger cabs — perhaps simply because people prefer them? — that has made gas-guzzlers like the Ford Crown Victoria the urban taxi standards for so long? Or does Ford just give them away to the cabbies?
The cab shown above is owned by Green Cab Seattle, whose website claims that they offer the only all-hybrid fleet in the Puget Sound Region. This seems like a can’t-lose business concept given the environmental sensibilities of the region, not to mention rising fuel prices and the escalating imperative to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
I’ve also seen Stita and Orange Prius cabs zipping around the city lately. No doubt we’ll be seeing more in the future, as the City of Seattle recently passed legislation requiring new cabs to get 30 m.p.g. by 2013.
What makes hybrids such as the Prius especially well-suited for the city is regenerative braking, a system that captures energy released as the vehicle is slowed and uses it to charge batteries. Because this happens more in stop and go traffic, the amazing thing is the Prius gets higher mileage in the city than on the highway: 48 m.p.g. vs. 45 m.p.g.
Busses, with all the stops they make, are also prime targets for regenerative braking. King County Metro began deploying hybrid buses with regenerative braking in 2004, and currently has 236 in operation (out of a total fleet of about 1400). Fuel savings are estimated to be 30%.
Regenerative braking is yet another of the many technologies that for decades we could have been working on and perfecting and deploying, and that could really be helping to save our butts right about now. But we didn’t try that hard because our culture is just not very good at planning for anything further out than about next week. Maybe that’s just human nature, the way we’ve always been. Or perhaps, just maybe, the American experiment has begot an unprecedented human personality.