Washington Post columnist Neal Peirce wrote of the Green Taxis Act, a measure that would help cities like New York, Seattle, and Boston make a complete switch from a fleet of standard taxi cabs to hybrid vehicles.
Without the financial backing of Congress, cities face strong opposition from fleet owners, who would need to replace all of their standard vehicles with hybrid vehicles costing several thousand dollars more apiece. It could take several years before up-front costs of purchasing a hybrid vehicle are returned in the form of fuel savings. But the fleet owners would never see those savings, because drivers purchase their own fuel. Fleet owners would simply be subsidizing the drivers’ fuel savings. Business-savvy fleet owners are left wondering: Why should my company be forced to “take one for the green team”? Why not mandate hybrid city vehicles or buses?
“Greening” all 13,000 of New York City’s taxi cabs is a dream that remains unfulfilled. But in early 2008, EnviroCAB, a new, privately-owned, all-hybrid cab company, put a fleet of 50 hybrid taxis on the road in Arlington County, Virginia. EnviroCAB claims to be the first carbon-neutral fleet in the U.S., because it purchases carbon offset credits, which replace traditional energy sources with clean energy, essentially negating the carbon emissions the hybrid vehicles produce.
While it’s great for cities to shoot for the stars—greening entire fleets of cabs—it clearly isn’t possible without significant funding from the already over-extended federal government. So, maybe Arlington has the right idea: a sort of “dress for the job you want” approach. Start small: use 50 green and white clearly-labeled hybrid taxis on local roads to remind people that this is but one element of a comprehensive effort to be green.
Yes, Arlington has the added advantage of a high-income, highly-educated, transit-reliant population with a strong commitment to sustainability, and 50 carbon-neutral taxi cabs may only be a drop in the bucket for reducing countywide carbon emissions. But it’s possible that the county is becoming green by acting green. Small amounts of “green” are being injected into many aspects of Arlington’s local government—EnviroCAB, Arlington’s Car Free Diet, WalkArlington, and the Green Home Choice Program. This may have a stronger, longer-lasting effect on sustainability efforts, with greater support from business owners who do not feel that their industry has been singled out to bear the financial burden of a city’s commitment to go green.