For London Climate Action Week (#LCAW2021), we spoke to a driver of one of the most iconic forms of transport in London, the black cab. Green Alliance’s senior political adviser, Joe Tetlow, interviewed cabbie Sardar Manyana about his experience of driving one of the newer ultra low emission vehicles (ULEVs).
How long have you driven a black cab? Have you always driven a ULEV?
I’ve been a taxi driver for over four years. Previously, I drove a conventional TX4 black cab, but for the past 18 months I’ve been driving a hybrid ULEV, made by the London Electric Vehicle Company, which I rent.
What incentives are there to switch to a hybrid black cab?
Non-ULEV black cabs are still allowed to operate and avoid London’s ultra low emission zone (ULEZ) charge. However, the advantages of having a ULEV cab are that it’s quieter and has a sunroof with six seats, and some customers love the fact it is a ULEV too. The government offers a grant worth £7,500 to own one. However, they are very expensive, costing between £55,600 and £58,000 plus insurance, which is why I rent.
What about the cost of running your cab and the ease of charging it?
The cost of charging is between £5.50 to £7.00 per charge, depending on the chargers used. If it’s done at home it’s cheaper, but I live in an apartment, so don’t have access to charging at home.
Even though ULEV manufacturers claim you save money, you don’t, mainly because finding a working charging point is so hard and the interruption to your working time of charging. Even a fast charger, at 50KW, takes between 45 minutes and an hour to charge. On full charge, vehicles run for about 50 to 55 miles which isn’t very practical as the average cabbie covers between 70-80 miles in a day and many live outside London. The battery power needs to be improved.
With current technology, this vehicle is not yet very cost effective to run. Some charging points are out of action for months at a time, and there are constant problems with contacting customer service to get them working. The chargers that do work are often illegally occupied by parked private vehicles, or are being used by private hire vehicles when the chargers are meant to be exclusively for taxis.
Overall, there are far too few rapid electric charging points in important central areas like Kensington, Westminster, Fulham, and there are no chargers that I know of in Mayfair. Some chargers are in car parks, but then you have to pay to park while you charge.
What can the government do to help?
If the government seriously wants to cut congestion and pollution, they must be more serious about funding road users to switch to electric or other cleaner methods of travel. And they need to look at how the whole system works and increase clean energy access to support it, including many more rapid chargers.
I also believe they should consider restricting the use of private cars on London’s roads, and prioritise public transport, including black cabs, pedestrians and cyclists to encourage the public to use their cars less. We also provide a service to a lot of vulnerable people, including those with disabilities, so it is vital that we have access to all roads, which we currently don’t have in some areas of London. London’s ultra low emission black taxis should be seen as part of a clean public transport system and be given 100 per cent finance at no interest to buy electric vehicles, and a scrappage scheme for older vehicles could help speed it up.
Better planning of road space would also improve the flow of traffic and sharing with bikes, as would more carefully timed traffic lights. Road closures for low traffic neighbourhoods should be planned along with other measures to cut traffic, otherwise they simply squeeze more traffic onto other roads, increasing pollution and congestion there, which still negatively affects people’s health.
We black taxi drivers work very hard to get our badge and know the city’s roads inside out, so we should be consulted and included in plans for greener city transport, as we’re an important part of that future.