Beijing's policymakers announced last week they are in the process of changing regulations which mandated all of the city's taxis be converted to electric powered vehicles within the next five years.
The reason for the shift? Smog.
The city is notorious for its poor air quality. During the Olympics in Beijing, the air quality was a major issue for many of the athletes. Seven of the world's ten most polluted cities are in China according to the Asia Development Bank. And fewer than 1 percent of China's top five hundred cities meet he air quality standards set by the World Health Organization. A study conducted in 2015 found air pollution was the main reason for up to 4000 premature deaths a day throughout China. The current fleet sits at an estimated staggering 71,000 vehicles, with already 4000 converted to electric vehicles already. But will removing 67,000 vehicles off the roads of Beijing and turning them into electric vehicles be the solution to their problems? Many analysts and experts feel the move is aggressive, shows a lot of initiative but may not bear any fruit and may in fact be detrimental to the taxi industry.
One of the many reasons is the amount of smog produced in the city. During the Olympics, the officials ordered many factories to shut down for weeks and banned buses and vehicles from its streets. They brought in all sorts of tools to disperse the smog and for the first time in years, the residents saw the sun. Removing a fraction of the traffic off the roads and replacing them with electric cars will not provide the same outcome they saw during the Olympics. The cost of replacing fossil fuel engine cars to electric will be extremely pricey. The cost of an electric car almost exceeds $10,000 more to an equivalent fossil fueled car. The project is expected to cost taxi operators $1.3 billion before it is complete. The government currently offers extremely generous subsidies for people buying electric cars but will they be able to help subsidize the costs for taxi operators and not let them go bankrupt. For those who have visited the capital city, they will know the city suffers from cold climate. the unlucky drivers are shutting off their battery-draining heaters and driving in winter gear in order to save the same power that fuels their travel distance. The hardships don't end there for electric taxi drivers. Since the domestic manufactured electric cars are the vehicle of choice for taxi drivers due to their cheaper costs in comparison to the Western models, the reliability of the vehicle is also a factor. According to China's Economic Observer newspaper, a new fully charged Beijing electric taxi has a range of about 90 miles. That sort of travel range would be ideal for a personal car in the city but for a taxi driver which requires as much travel distance as possible, it is their Achilles's heel since a daily commute in the city averages around 23 miles. And the battery life gets worse with age. Some drivers report their year-old taxi's driving range diminishes to 60 miles and some older one struggle to even reach 30.
A study last year found the electric taxis in the city average two charges, two trips and a mere 72 miles a day. And charging is another woe for electric taxi drivers. In 2014, there were 539 public chargers. But that alone is shared between the 4000 electric taxis and rapidly expanding fleet of privately owned electric cars - 51,000 added to the streets of Beijing just in 2016 alone. The inadequate infrastructure to support the amount of electric cars cause taxi drivers to spend half their time charging, with a typical wait time of up to three hours. With all these concerns, it comes to no surprise the amount of people willing to become taxi drivers has fallen. At Beijing Yinjian Taxi, the city's largest vendor, monthly rents for the cars have fallen from $1000 in 2014 to as little as $300 this year. The city government is offering a $200 monthly subsidy to drivers who work a set number of hours in an electric taxi but that has proven to be futile. While the program to switch over to electric taxis may reflect the country's ambitions and pride, the outcome of this project is yet to be determined. With so many factors in direct contention with its success, the policymakers will have to ensure many things change in order for their program to even be deemed successful.