On December 10 County Board scuttled a plan to put 40 electric powered cabs (EVs) on Arlington streets, bowing to pressure from cab drivers who packed the County Board hearing room with gags in their mouths to signal their opposition both to the EVs and to Board Chair Mary Hynes’ decision to cut off public comment. As an inducement to approve the project EV Taxicabs had promised to install dozens of electric recharging stations around the county that would be available to the public free of charge. At first blush, EV taxis looked like a win-win for both Arlington residents and the environment. However, the Arlington Transportation Commission vetoed the project over concern whether the cabs could provide reliable service to/from Dulles Airport.
EV Taxis said its sophisticated dispatch system would direct only fully charged vehicles to the airport. The trip from Ballston to Dulles is 25 miles, and the range of a Nissan Leaf is 60-105 miles. So it would appear that drivers could do two round trips before recharging their vehicles, an operation that takes 30 minutes and one that drivers keen on capturing airport fares might try to put off. An EV driver who failed to recharge at Dulles might then find himself parked on I-395 on the return leg of the second trip, when his passenger decided he wanted to go to the Pentagon or Reagan Airport instead of Ballston.
Even more troubling were concerns by Arlington United Taxi Operators (AUTO) that there’s insufficient demand to put 40 additional cabs on the street. Taxi drivers would have to work even longer hours to make a living or be forced out of business all together. According to AUTO, going to work for EV Taxicabs wasn’t an option, because under the current taxicab ordinance the drivers are attached to county issued certificates, and the certificates are in turn attached to specific companies. AUTO tried negotiating with County Board to revamp the current taxicab ordinance to make it more equitable. But AUTO claims that County Board refused to even hold public hearings on their proposal.
This points out the Green Party’s position that environmental justice and social justice go hand and hand. Until Arlington adopts a taxi code that allows drivers to move freely from one cab company to another, cab drivers are going to fight the wholesale displacement of the current fleet with environmentally friendly vehicles.