Progress: London is replacing the old black cabs with new electric ones

Updated April 19th:

The traditional Black cabs of London are in the process of being converted to all Electric Vehicles (EVs), but it is a change not without its problems. First introduced to London streets in 2018, there was some hesitancy on the part of the cabbies to make the transition; obviously, most wouldn’t be having to buy a new one till their current cab started falling apart; that said initially cabbies had a choice between the new EVs cabs and the older designed gas ones (not yet sold) and some, fearing the change, jumped to replace their cabs with a gas one before the new EVs replaced them in the marketplace, but that’s a choice that is no longer available. If they replace their cabs now it has to be with an electric one, or go without — a point I’ll get back to.

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Last time I was in London, in 2019 (pre pandemic) I don’t remember seeing a single electric cabbie nor any charging stations for them. Yesterday I spotted this when walking with an acquaintance through London’s Southwark neighborhood, and it made me very happy.

Anyone who knows anything about Electric Vehicles (EVs) know that this is a BRILLIANT choice and HAS to become the norm in the future, especially for things like cabs, busses and trucks which spend ALL their time on city streets, running more hours than not and polluting the air while burning up non renewable resources.

Add to that the fact the Europe gets most of it’s oil from Russia, and you see the problem. That said, while England does have some of it’s own North Sea Oil sites, they still supplement that with oil from Russia …  and with what’s going on right now over in Ukraine….
So let’s talk about why this HAS to happen:
Firstly, electric cabs run entirely clean, which will help reduce the horrible air quality in cities. London has some of the worst air of any city in the world, with 80% of that pollution coming from cars, and 20% of that traffic on London streets is just from the black cabs… so if all the cabs (let alone the busses and trucks) became electric that would be a big improvement in the city’s air quality right there.
And most of the old black cabs ran on diesel, which is even worse for air quality than normal gas. — blech!
Secondly while electric isn’t all that great on highways or really long drives, they are GREAT for short distance travel within limited areas (according to one of the drivers interviewed in the videos below, he recharges his electric cab at night while at home, and only rarely needs to top up at one of the currently rare charging stations around the city.
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Thirdly… and this is crucial… stop and go traffic, and the constant repetitive hard breaking that is the bane of crawling through inner city streets actually HELPS EVs to recharge their batteries — without having to pay for a top up at an aforementioned station.

That said, when they cabs were released in 2018 the drivers of black cabs, who tend to be traditionalists had to be convinced. To that end I found the following video from 2019 (While it feels like a news piece its actually an advertisement created by the company that makes the cabs) designed to look like a news piece… This is the sort of PR news submission from companies that lazy news stations will put on air as actual journalism, when they’re not; in it a woman talks about the cabs and interviews a cabbie whose been driving black cabs for 10 years before switching to this new car…

But the first major hurdle to the transition was the price. These new EVs cabs cost the drivers 60K (over $78K) to buy, which is about 25K MORE ($32K) than what they are paying for the old fashioned ones. And in 2018 they are NOT government subsidized, even though you would think they would have been (a problem now fixed by the way).

Also, there are other hidden issues I wasn’t finding in the videos but that showed up in the comments left below said YouTube videos.

So for instance, there’s been some complaints about the quality…

TXE faults reported by owner drivers 2018 — by a guy called Graham Grey (posted in 2020) responding to the previous video on YouTube
1) Software errors
2) Cracking windscreens
3) steering Bushes squeaking and need replacement
4) doors dropping
5) panels out of line
6) orange peel effect on paint work
7) steering box seals going … steering box replacement
8) vibrates over 65 mph
9) radio going off on its own
10) meter problems were its showing to much or to little
11) excessive tyre ware
12) broken charger plugs
13) unable to unlock centre seat in the back
14) door handles falling off
15) battery completely under performing from day one
16, can not use heater due to excessive battery drain
17) various intercom problems
18) anti roll bar bushes need replacement
19) charging issues
20) back door lock problems
21) fuses blowing if both front windows opened at same time
22) cab surging forward when applying the break (few accidents reported)

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And apparently above the obvious price difference there were also hidden price issues regarding the loans the drivers have to get to be able to afford buying them versus the promised savings to said drivers of the cost of running them:

“What they don’t tell you is the never ending payment plan that you are stuck on. The bubble payment after 5yrs is approx 19 grand, and the warranty on the battery runs out then also. Most of the drivers in London have the petrol range extender running all day, so the savings against diesel are not as good as stated. The idea is good, but with the current state of the trade. Stay well clear.”– Jumbo Mills (2019)
And then drivers found issues regarding the performance of these new EVs cabs:
“The electric cab does not do 80 miles on electric when u have air con and heater on it does 45 mils on electric when u turn on to to petrol u get 45 to the gallon the cost of buying is expensive u lose working time on pluging in for more electric so a lot of cab drivers run it only on petrol which u get 45 to the gallon so where is the savings it misreputation by the makers of the electric cab” — Jeff Rose (late 2021)
I then found a second video, this one from Fifth-gear, a British TV show devoted to cars enthusiasts. He talks first and foremost about the air pollution advantages, but also compares his experience of driving the old cabs, which were loud and uncomfortable especially for the drivers to this one which is quiet and according to him much more comfortable, even roomier in the back than the old cabs, allow customers to charge their phones and such while driving…  and easier to drive for the cabbie, etc.

According to him the “London Electric Car Company” which produces is the cab is part of the same company that owns Volvo, and hence the car has a lot of the same interior features. Where the last video had one cabbie talking about it, this one pulls in 3 cabbies who’ve never driven the thing before and take them for test drives in it to get their opinions. At the end 2 of the 3 drivers say they’d make the change with one having actually put in a order for one to replace his aging cab.

 So how has the transition been going? 

I found a Taxi industry newspaper article from January of this year saying that since 2018, of the around 15,000 black cabs on the road, 5,000 have been replaced with the electric option; this “total number” of black cabs seemed low to me and the answer for why it is true is a bit complicated, but in retrospect it made sense. According to a mid-covid 2020 article from the same industry paper, this number was down radically since 2015 when there had been 22,500 black cabs on London’s roads. There are two major factors at play… firstly over the last few years I’ve read numerous articles talking about how black cabs were losing out to Uber and Lyft in the competition for customers, making it less appealing to young people to jump through all the hoops necessary to qualify to drive a black cab, when they could just go work for Uber or one of the other mini cab companies popping up around London’s suburbs — although all of those must be ordered, and can not legally be hailed on London streets, something that’s becoming less and less important in the modern age. These taxis don’t use the iconic “Black Cabs” but rather look like a normal American one, and tend to be driven by recent immigrants who barely speak English, let alone have the intimate knowledge of London’s city streets for which Black Cabbies are legendary.

For those of you who don’t know, in London, to qualify to drive a black cab you need to pass a test called “The Knowledge” a somewhat legendarily difficult test to pass of all the best ways to get from point A to point B in London’s maze of one way streets, dead ends, and roads that don’t go for more than few blocks. The learning required to pass it isn’t unlike that of becoming a doctor or lawyer, but for a heck of a lot less pay. While this was invaluable in the low tech age, making London cabbies respected, if not well compensated … now, with the invent of GPS, every Uber and Lyft driver has the equivalent information at their finger tips, and as such one can begin to question if it’s still a necessary requirement (although black cab drivers know where they’re going and as such can focus their full attention on the roads while the former are distracted because they have to keep checking their screens. which makes them arguably less safe). As such, there was attrition in the profession as older drivers retired, and younger ones couldn’t see the point when they could just go drive for Uber, which was attracting more customers anyway.

This changed quite recently for a combination of two reasons, government regulation and circumstance. Firstly, those upstart/disrupter companies were forced by the UK government to raise their prices. The finding, on the part of authorities, was that essentially their prices were artificially low (yet profitable to the companies) because the they had been ripping off their workers who didn’t fully understand the TRUE cost of driving their cars all day (wear and tear, taxes, etc). As such, Uber and Lyft were able to charge customers less than it cost to provide the service, and that was making them anticompetitive with black cabs. Now that the price difference has been fixed. After that, the only true competitive advantage other than price that the high tech taxi firms still had over the tradition London cabbie, in my mind at least, also had been leveled — essentially convenience. Black cabs finally got a little bit high tech, and can now be called via an app from customers smartphones, just like they upstart competitors, and with all the similar features of being able to track it’s arrival, etc.

And that’s when Covid happened. Suddenly, the black cabs which have always been designed so that there’s a Plexiglass divide between the driver and the customers, and more than a 6 foot separation if you sit in the forward facing seats at the back, had an advantage that all the of the various taxi services that were using normal cars, suddenly could not compete with… causing the black cabs to have a resurgence in popularity with customers — but at a time when the market was simultaneously shrinking because no one was going anywhere. Additionally, as anyone who has tried to buy a car recently can tell you… You just can’t. Covid has entirely screwed up the supply chain, and the more high tech the car, the harder it is to get your hands on. SO, just as the demand for black cabs was seeing a resurgence, drivers who needed to replace their aging cars couldn’t do it. At the height of the pandemic disheartened drivers were leaving the profession at the rate of 160 cabs a week, which was worse then before the government steps in to punish the likes of uber.

That said, the turnover from gas guzzlers to EVs in the Black Cab industry is a done deal. Only time will tell how well they do going forward.

Edit: April 19th
My black cab heading home was one of the new ones so I took some pictures of the inside…
I think the sunroofs are a brilliant addition
You can pay cash, which the drivers prefer, or with a credit card that does “tap to pay”, or apple pay….
The control on the door is for turning on and off the intercom with the driver and includes a sound level control
Sits 6 people total, all with seatbelts — and the back and front are separated with plexiglass, which makes them way better during Covid
A light switch, in case you’re in the cab at night

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