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Grant to Support Conversion of Cabs to Propane, Construction of Fueling Stations

By Yamiche Alcindor
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 13, 2009

Nearly $9 million of the Obama administration's economic stimulus funds will go toward converting a thousand Washington area taxicabs into propane-fueled vehicles as well as building several propane fueling stations.

"This is by far the most exciting development of our industry in many years," said Steve McCoy, a representative of Alliance AutoGas, the company that will oversee the conversion of the cabs and the construction of the stations. "This will be a great catalyst for change."

Unlike other hybrids, the new cabs will burn a small amount of gasoline but will get most of their energy from propane. The project is part of a larger effort by the U.S. Department of Energy called the Clean Cities program to convert up to 9,000 vehicles nationwide and save approximately 38 million gallons of gas a year.

McCoy said the Alliance plan is expected to reduce each vehicle's greenhouse emissions by 20 percent, save up to 3.9 million gallons of gas annually and save companies up to $5,000 a year in fuel costs for each converted vehicle.

Companies participating include Red Top Cab in Arlington County and Regency Cab in Gaithersburg, each of which will have 100 cabs converted, and Barwood Cab in Kensington, which will have 40 cabs converted.

The propane project is part of a joint initiative by Alliance AutoGas, Red Top Cab and the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association, McCoy said. Representatives from the organizations put together a grant proposal in May asking the government to help fund the project.

McCoy said he and others learned last week that the proposal will receive $8.6 million from the $787 billion stimulus plan. Further funding will come from Alliance AutoGas and Clean Cities. The project, which will cost $21 million, should be completed early next year, McCoy said.

"We see this as a real opportunity to prove that an alternative fuel system can be used in taxicabs," said Charles King, vice president of Red Top Cab, which will be home to one of the propane fueling stations in Arlington. The other stations will be at Dulles International Airport and in Falls Church, Gaithersburg, Upper Marlboro and Laurel. The stations will not be open to the public, King said.

King said he hopes the propane cabs will help keep fare prices down while allowing Red Top to maintain full-size vehicles.

About a year ago, Red Top purchased 50 smaller hybrid vehicles such as the Toyota Camry that burn gasoline and electricity. But customers, often traveling with large bags, usually need more space, King said.

The propane-fueled cabs will allow Red Top to use Ford Crown Victorias, the vehicles typically used as taxicabs nationwide, while also conserving energy, he said.

Red Top Cab has already converted one vehicle. The bumper reads "Clean Fuel Taxi" in bright green letters. Inside the cab, signs announce that the vehicle is part of an initiative to "go green."

McCoy said he hopes the program will motivate companies to do more conversions, at a cost of about $5,800 for each vehicle. A gallon of propane costs about $1 less than a regular gallon of gas.

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