Hybrid taxis

Posted on March 30th, 2014 in Hybrid Power,testing,Toyota by Julian Edgar

I recently spent some days in Darwin teaching people in government how to write clearly. It’s a long time since I’ve been in Darwin, and the growth and increasing affluence of the city was plain to see.

But the thing that fascinated me more than anything else in Darwin was the proliferation of Toyota hybrid taxis. The Prius, Prius V and Camry hybrid just dominate the taxi fleet.

Watching the few non-hybrid taxis sit there in ranks, waiting for customers with the car engines running to keep the air-conditioned cabins cool, it struck me how Toyota hybrids have a clear fuel economy advantage in these conditions.

And what’s that? Well, they can have the air con compressors and cabin fans operating with the engine switched off – until the HV battery gets low in charge, anyway.

One Prius taxi I went in had a dash displayed fuel economy of 7.5 litres/100km (horrendous for a Prius) but with the car being driven abysmally, and with all that time stopped with the air on, that was probably a pretty good figure compared with a conventional drivetrain.

(Yes the HV juice that runs the air con still needs to come from the petrol, but an engine is less efficient at idle than when driving the car, so overall, the fuel economy would benefit with the hybrid approach. Not to mention the battery juice achieved through braking regen.)

When I was in Germany a few months ago, there were many Prius taxis in the ranks – oftentimes, as many of the hybrid Toyotas as there were Mercedes and Volkswagens. I don’t think that fuel economy in those cool German cities would be a stellar advantage to the hybrids over diesels, so that brings up another taxi advantage. The Prius driveline is basically bulletproof – the engine, power split converter and electronics give extraordinarily little trouble. (That’s not just lucky – Toyota went to enormous pains to ensure that hybrids wouldn’t get a bad reputation through poor reliability.)

Taxi operators are among the hardest economic heads operating vehicles – they will use a car only if there is an overall economic benefit. So compared with other manufacturers, the taxi purchase / maintenance cost equation must be highly competitive for the Prius.

Wouldn’t it be funny if one of the greatest advances in car technology in the last 80 years – hybrids – ended up entering the mainstream through the back door of taxi use?

4 Responses to 'Hybrid taxis'

Subscribe to comments with RSS

  1. Ben Powell said,

    on March 31st, 2014 at 1:27 am

    I was speaking to a taxi owner/driver about this. His fleet consists solely of hybrids due to the fuel savings over the long lifetime (in terms of km travelled), and he did make the comment that the Prius gave utter reliability except that two of his had some bearings in the power split device/differential that started making noises around the 500,000km mark (which is comparable, if not superior, to a normal auto anyway).

    The batteries lasted longer than that as well, and some of his ex-taxi’s have ended up in the hands of his children and provided similar levels of reliability, despite the stupendous odometer readings.

    I can’t recall the numbers being thrown around for servicing costs though, as they didn’t stand out as either good or bad.

    He also noted that unless you like greenie points or prefer the way they drive, for normal users a new hybrid is not a good way to spend money, the numbers simply don’t add up for the same size and performance vehicle (I just ran the numbers, the $10k price difference between my 2013 Swift [Manual, gets 6.5l/100km in my driving delivering pizzas in a small area] and a Prius C would take around 580,000km to pay back, assuming a fuel cost of $1.70/l that I pay up here for 95 octane).

    But I like the way the hybrids drive, being generally smoother and quieter than conventional vehicles, especially at lights. I just couldn’t justify the price difference that way.

    Maybe if more cars had well programmed CVT’s as their two-pedal option, would use transmission control combined with injector cut to allow longer zero-fuel coasting, and turned off the engine at lights…

  2. Ronald said,

    on March 31st, 2014 at 5:27 am

    It is remarkable that Lpg falcons have been pushed out of the taxi fleet by what critics used to say were overpriced hybrids that didnt make sense. As you rightly point out, the taxi fleet is the epitome of the litmus test of economic merit for vehicles. If hybrids can pass the taxi test, then they surely must earn more respect as robust and viable vehicles for all to consider.

  3. Julian C said,

    on March 31st, 2014 at 11:02 am

    Your comment about taxi driving style:-

    “…but with the car being driven abysmally…”

    – is consistent with many of my experiences as a taxi passenger.

    Many taxi drivers seem to be very heavy on the accelerator in the manner of a P-plater with his/her first car.

    I’ll often talk shop about cars, fuel-economy etc. with the driver (especially with the emergence of hybrid and diesel taxis) and most times the driver will have a comment to the effect of:-

    “The taxi-owner pays for the fuel and it’s fun to drive like this” as an explanation for the aggressive throttle use.

    The principle of “other people’s money” and economic theories probably explain the behaviour better than I can.

    To speculate; with advances in technology we can’t be far away from taxi fleet owners being able to monitor (and create incentives for) smooth and economical driving style.


  4. Peter Tawadros said,

    on April 1st, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    In Sydney we’re starting to see hybrid taxis en masse too, a little bit late for a large metro such as this. I’m a bit disappointed with the Sydney Buses Hybrid bus trial though. We had a hybrid bus on our roads for a while in 2012 and I thought it might be the start of something good but the report said otherwise.

    It makes for interesting reading, I think the analytical methodology isn’t bad but quite possibly a more rigorous experimental procedure could have changed the outcomes considerably. (link for anyone interested: http://www.transport.nsw.gov.au/sites/default/files/b2b/publications/hybrid-bus-trial-final-report.pdf). I’d have loved to get hold of the bus and re-do the trial myself.

    Hybrid buses are light years ahead of anything else, if only for the fact that you can sit at a bus stop in the inner city in veritable silence rather than having a truck engine rumbling a metre away from your ear. I fail to see how the tech doesn’t add up financially for buses when taxis are adopting them in increasing scale.