Board Gives Go-Ahead to Eco-Friendly Taxicabs

By Kirstin Downey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 20, 2007

A fleet of 85 guilt-free taxicabs soon will be plying Arlington streets, offering transportation for passengers who want to go green.

The Arlington County Board this week authorized a new taxi company to operate with an all-hybrid fleet of 50 vehicles and gave rival companies permission to add 35 hybrids. Hybrid cars are fuel-efficient and produce low carbon emissions, a byproduct blamed for such environmental problems as global warming.

The green taxi expansion is part of a county campaign known as Fresh AIRE, or Arlington Initiative to Reduce Emissions, which aims to cut production of greenhouse gases from county buildings and vehicles by 10 percent by 2012. County officials are seeking as many ways as possible to promote energy efficiency. Arlington recently added eight heavy-duty buses that run on natural gas and are equipped with bike racks. The county also recently certified 17 home building and remodeling projects as energy-efficient, thanking the homeowners at an awards ceremony.

Fuel savings alone will help make the new taxicab initiative profitable, county officials said as it won unanimous approval Tuesday. Officials said they believe the county will have the largest hybrid taxi fleet in the Washington area. The vehicles are expected to be on the streets by year's end.

"Investing in hybrids makes sense for the environment and good economic sense for these companies," said County Board Chairman Paul Ferguson (D).

"It's exciting; it's progressive," resident Chris O'Brien said.

Many taxi drivers criticized the board's decision, saying that although they too want to promote good environmental stewardship, adding more cabs to the streets will make it harder for drivers to earn an adequate living. Former taxi driver Lou Gatti displayed photographs showing that cabs clog many Arlington streets.

"There are cabs everywhere," he said.

Charles King, vice president of Red Top Cab, said "an unprecedented number of new cabs" would "dilute drivers' earnings."

Taxi driver Alfredo Reyes asked the board to "have a heart" and not expand the number of cabs on the road.

Other speakers, however, said there are not enough cabs in some neighborhoods to serve the disabled or other customers. They also said there is sometimes a dearth of cabs in late-night hours when bars close.

"We do need more taxicabs in South Arlington," said Angela McCant, who works and lives there.

After a lengthy public hearing, the board approved the application of EnviroCAB, a new company, to operate the all-hybrid fleet of 50 Toyota Prius and Ford Escape cabs. It also accepted the county manager's proposal to allow existing taxi companies to add 35 hybrids.

Board approval is required for any new taxi company to operate in Arlington and for the expansion of existing fleets. The board also sets taxi fares. The hybrids will charge the same as standard vehicles.

Board member Chris Zimmerman (D) said residents will be able to choose whether they want to ride in a standard taxi or a hybrid. "The burden of proof needs to fall in favor of choice," he said.

EnviroCAB's 50-vehicle fleet will be owned by drivers; the company will provide dispatch service. Red Top Cab will add 20 hybrid taxis, Crown Cab 10 and Yellow Cab five.

The 85 hybrid taxis and a wheelchair-accessible vehicle operated by Friendly Cab will join 666 cabs now authorized in Arlington.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company