San Francisco is leading the way in reducing taxi greenhouse gas emissions, and part of the movement was spearheaded not by a politician, but by a taxi driver. Thirteen years ago, Paul Gillespie was the first cabbie to occupy the seat allocated to a driver in the newly formed 7-person San Francisco Taxi Commission. At the commission's very first meeting, Gillespie, who has been concerned about the environment since high school, recommended that clean taxis be placed on the agenda.
Using his close relationship with cab company managers, Gillespie was able to convince two companies, Yellow Cab and Luxor Cab, to include 10 and five Ford Escape Hybrids, respectively, to their fleets when that vehicle hit the market in 2004. The number has since grown to 801 hybrid or natural gas vehicles due to a carefully drawn ordinance created by Gillespie, Mayor Gavin Newsom, the city government and the taxi companies.
The crux of the successful ordinance was a $7.50 raise in the rental fee, called a gate, a driver pays to the cab company per shift for hybrid and other low-emission taxis. Drivers save $20-40 per shift on gas by driving such vehicles, which more than pays for the increased rental cost. The additional gate fee received by the cab companies adds up, over three years, to the exact cost difference between buying a used Crown Victoria police car, which gets 9-10 miles per gallon, and a Ford Escape Hybrid, rated at 30 mpg city driving. The gate, along with other local and federal incentives, makes it difficult for cab companies not to choose to purchase hybrids or natural gas vehicles for their fleets. How successful has the program been? As of March 2010, San Francisco's taxi fleet was halfway to being all hybrid and natural gas.
[Source: Hybrid Cars| Image: Ian Fuller – C.C. License 2.0]