In his latest bid to improve air quality in London, Boris Johnson has announced that all new black taxis should be electric by 2020. But how realistic is his plan?
The mayor, who has been criticised for not doing enough to clean up pollution in the capital, said in his air quality strategy that the city will refuse licences to cabs older than 15 years from 2012 and enforce twice-yearly MOT tests from 2013. So far, so good, you might think, especially as the strategy states that cabs are responsible for 20% of air pollution. This measure alone will remove around 1200 less environmentally-friendly vehicles from the streets though Boris has toned down somewhat his original plan to refuse licences to cabs over 10 years old by 2015.
But it’s the claim that electric cabs are the way forward which needs closer inspection. The idea is that cab drivers will be persuaded to go electric with the carrot of a £1m fund to help finance cleaner cabs and the stick of having their licence to operate removed if their cars don’t meet emissions standards, but as The Register points out:
‘The likeliest technology for the "zero emissions capable" taxi of 2020 is, of course, plug-in hybrid. The only snag with this is that a plug-in hybrid can only operate as a zero-emissions vehicle by driving small distances each day. This is quite feasible for a typical commuter, but hardly so in the case of a taxi driver. The first couple of dozen miles driven will be in zero-emission battery mode, and then for the rest of the day the engine will provide all the energy: the taxi will have become basically just another hybrid.
Nothing wrong with that, of course – hybrid has much lower emissions than a typical present day diesel cab – but the use of the term "zero emission" is at best ignorant and at worst misleading. The mayor might well expect to be punished by the media and the voters for making such a misleading pledge.’
Clean Air London, who recently issued a legal challenge over the scrapping of the Western Extension Zone of the c-charge, describe the mayor’s strategy as ‘not fit for purpose’ on the basis that emissions will still exceed the limit across around half of London while Darren Johnson, a Green party member of the London assembly accused Boris of ‘dithering and delaying over a half-baked plan’.
So, fully electric black cabs look like an unrealistic proposition, even with 4000 new charging points going in across the UK. In fact, Boris has been beset with difficulties over his apparent fondness for electric cars – his promise to make London the electric car capital of Europe last year went a bit flat when he was forced to slash his budget for the scheme from £20m to £6m. It’s not that we think he’s not making an effort to improve air quality – in fact the scrapping of the WEZ could improve air quality according to TfL by reducing congestion and smoothing traffic flows is one of Boris’s aims in his clean air strategy – but a little less smoke and mirrors would be nice.