Taxis are the bane of all urban areas. Typically, they are poorly made, poorly maintained, and spew tons of carbon dioxide into the air every day as they shuttle people from place to place. Beijing has nearly 70,000 taxis. It also has an intractable problem with smog. While it has embarked on an aggressive program to encourage private citizens to buy what it calls “new energy vehicles” — hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and battery-operated cars — that push has not made much of an impact on the taxi fleet in China’s capital. Now it has announced a plan to replace all 67,000 fossil-fueled taxis in the city with electric cars.
The changeover won’t happen right away. It begins with a mandate that any new taxis placed in service must be electric, but that means it could be a decade or more before all older vehicles are replaced. The project is expected to cost taxi operators $1.3 billion before it is complete. The entry-level fossil-fueled cars in use today cost about $10,000. Equivalent electric cars cost twice as much.
China is paying the price for its rapid economic expansion, most of which has been powered by electricity generated in coal-fired facilities. During the recent Olympic games in Beijing, it ordered many factories to shut down for weeks and banned buses and vehicles from its streets. The plan worked, as millions of Beijing residents saw the sun for the first time in months, but it came at a huge economic cost.
A study in 2015 found that air pollution was responsible for up to 4,000 premature deaths a day throughout China. Last month, government officials ordered a local company called Air Matters to stop reporting pollution levels that exceed the government’s official air quality index of 500. No better way to solve a problem than by officially ignoring it.
The plan to electrify Beijing’s taxi fleet has one drawback, however. There are not enough charging stations for the hundreds of electric taxis already in service in the capital city. Drivers often have to wait hours to get access to a charger. “There are 200 electric taxis on the streets of Tongzhou in Beijing, but only about 100 are on the road, while the other 100 are waiting to be charged,” a driver told business newspaper Caixin.