Correction:

An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Green Line Cab was an unsuccessful candidate for new taxi certificates. The Arlington County Board has not decided which companies will receive the certificates. This version has been updated.

All-electric taxi firm may serve Arlington

Malik Khattak - Arlington County may soon be the first local area to offer all-electrical, WiFi-enabled taxicabs as the county expands its cab fleet by 65 cars, including 10 new wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

Travelers in need of a ride in Arlington County soon could be hailing an electric taxi on their smartphone and working — or playing — on a complimentary iPad while riding through the congested streets of Northern Virginia.

EV Taxicab, a new Arlington-based company, plans to launch a fleet of 40 Nissan Leaf sedans — if it gets most of the 65 new taxi certificates that the County Board will award Dec. 8.

“This is the future,” said owner Malik Khattak. His cars would compose the first all-electric taxi fleet in the region, and possibly the nation, he said.

Charging stations would be installed at the homes of drivers, Khattak said, and at least a half-dozen additional charging stations would be made available for public use near the county’s busy Metrorail stations.

Arlington County Board members had been scheduled to vote on the taxi certificates Tuesday evening. But board members, who had been meeting since
3 p.m. and who had heard more than 40 speakers on this issue alone, postponed a vote before adjourning at 1:45 a.m. Wednesday. First, however, they asked a series of questions about the plans of EV Taxicab and nine other companies that sought to add to the 765 cabs operating in the county.

“What we’re asked to decide is not whether electric vehicles are the way of the future,” said board Vice Chairman Chris Zimmerman (D), but whether EV Taxicab should be authorized to operate in the county, whether the addition of 10 new wheelchair-accessible cabs to other vendors is adequate, and the reasoning of the county manager’s staff for splitting the new certificates among several taxi services.

Red Top dominates taxi service in Arlington with 350 cabs, including 23 wheelchair-accessible vans. Blue Top has 166 cabs, of which four are wheelchair-accessible. Each would be allowed to add five new wheelchair-accessible cabs under the county manager’s recommendation.

John Massoud, vice president of Blue Top, said the need for cabs that can handle people with wheelchairs is so great that his company almost went into default on a state contract because of difficulties in transporting people with disabilities in a timely manner. The company bought an additional van, which costs about 60 percent more than a typical cab, and offered drivers lower fees to operate it.

Several of the county’s seven current taxi vendors and those who want to join them urged the board to be skeptical of an electric vehicle fleet, with several promising to build all-hybrid fleets over time.

Sharif Shafik, an owner of Green Line Cabs, an applicant, said: “I am not going to put my mother in an electric car to go to Dulles. It won’t make it halfway in 100-degree weather in our traffic.”

Khattak and an official from Nissan’s electric vehicles division called Shafik’s claim false. A fully charged Nissan Leaf has a range of about 100 miles, they said, and Dulles has recharging stations. Most rides to the airport are prearranged, Khattak said, allowing plenty of time for cabs to charge up. If none are available, he said, the company will call another firm who can transport the customer.

Many of the more than 100 drivers and advocates for the companies who jammed the county offices said the board was overlooking a major underlying issue of fairness to drivers, who said they are being overcharged and overworked under the county’s current taxi ordinance.

“It’s us, the drivers, who invest in the business,” said Weletetaw Adane, who is part of the Arlington Cab Cooperative. “We’re the ones who are required to get new cars every seven years and get in debt. We’re the ones who make payments; we’re the ones who pay insurance; we’re the ones who pay maintenance; we’re the ones who pay property taxes; and we’re the ones who pay all costs associated with running the cabs. Ask the drivers. Okay, electric cars, fine. But they are going to make us pay for the cars. It’s us, not them.”

Ahmed Benaddi scoffed at the idea of electric vehicles, and also objected to one company’s assertion that it will teach its drivers to speak conversational English.

“They promise you cars that hover and don’t touch the ground, no emissions,” he said. “This last company, he was going to teach us English. I speak five languages. How many do you speak? This is insulting.”

Zimmerman tried to seek more time for drivers to discuss their issues, but board Chairman Mary H. Hynes (D) said he lost a vote to change the taxi ordinance last month. She said the county will look into the concerns that drivers raised.

 
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