Eco Wise

Big Yellow Taxis Are Turning Green

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Forget yellow. Green is fast becoming the taxi color of choice -- at least in Earth-friendly Arlington.

Alongside the hybrid cab service EnviroCab (703-920-3333), a host of other companies in the Virginia suburb are responding to customers who are signaling that eco-friendly taxis are no longer a luxury; they're a necessity for companies to compete.

"Often our car won't be the first one in a line of taxis. But the customer will insist on the EnviroCab and argue with the other drivers who will try to stop it from happening," says founder Hans Hess, who notes that calls for cars from his 50-vehicle fleet have increased since the company started in February. (The price of a green taxi ride is the same as a traditional ride.)

Red Top Cab (703-522-3333), which controls more than half of Arlington's taxis, has 30 hybrids in service and plans to add more, according to Vice President Charlie King. Red Top's efforts began in 2006, when the company was awarded certificates for a trial hybrid taxi program.

Arlington Blue Top Cab (703-243-8294) recently bought 10 hybrid taxis to add to its 150 vehicles. The company expects its entire cadre of cabs to be environmentally friendly within a decade -- either by using ethanol fuel or being classified as hybrids, says John Massoud, the firm's vice president.

"The fact is that the citizens of Arlington County are requesting alternate fuel. We've been seeing this more and more," he says.

Why Arlington? For starters, the area has long enjoyed a reputation for environmental stewardship. Still, Arlington's County Board has been picky about allowing too many taxi companies to spring up or expand. EnviroCab's request in May to increase its fleet was denied. And two new all-hybrid businesses were rejected last month because board members said the market was too crowded.

For Hess, that means his eye is on other parts of the region.

"We would love to be in other jurisdictions. I think that is definitely on our horizon," he says.

-- Dena Levitz

© 2008 The Washington Post Company