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Electric taxis spark interest in WA

Customers love them, drivers applaud comfort and quietness as Australia's first EV taxi trials get electric reviews.

 High customer demand for zero-emission vehicles has vindicated Perth company Swan Taxis in its Australian-first EV taxi trials of two Hyundai Ioniq Electric cabs.

Swan Taxis, part of Singapore-based ComfortDelGro transport group, is the major taxi dispatch company in Western Australia with the bulk of the state’s 2000-unit fleet. It bought the Ioniqs as a toe-in-the-water exercise for what it sees as a near-future trend to electric vehicles (EVs).

Now, four months after the trial began, one of the two drivers has built a strong following of customers who say they won’t pay for a ride in anything other than an EV.

John Lane, a taxi driver for 26 years, said the Ioniq Electric is quiet, comfortable, roomy and has a very high safety rating. He said that the downside is the range of around 250km which precludes a two-driver shift.

“Unlike a hybrid, when the car’s at home getting charged up it’s not on the road with customers,” he said.

He came out of a Toyota Camry Hybrid and though he has a lot of admiration for this car, he is an advocate for EVs.

Mr Lane also says he has unwittingly built a customer base of people who not only like the car’s features, but are right behind its zero-emission tailpipe credentials.

“They love the fact it’s a ‘green’ car,” he said.

A ride in a Swan EV is also cheaper than a more conventional taxi. Electric vehicles - and their passengers - are exempt from the recently-introduced 10 per cent levy to fund WA’s Taxi Plate Buyback Scheme. The scheme compensates taxi plate owners who bought taxi plates prior to the introduction of industry reform.

Swan bought the two Ioniqs in May this year, following the lead of its parent company, ComfortDelGro, which last year bought two Ioniq Electric and two Kona EVs for its Singaporean taxi fleet.

ComfortDelGro funded the Perth-based trial vehicles themselves, paying about $45,000 plus on-road costs each for the Ioniq Elite version.

There is no subsidy available from the federal or state governments for the EV program, though in 2010 the WA state government offered taxi owners a $15,000 grant and 20 per cent reduction in vehicle leases for an initial 10 hybrid cars under the Green Hybrid Taxi Trial program. The program was extended after 2010 and now comprises about 40 Toyota Prius cars.

Despite no financial assistance from governments, ComfortDelGro CEO and Swan Taxi chief, Carey Marshall, said "we believe it’s the way forward".

“Drivers have provided a positive response to the vehicle. They are particularly impressed with the quietness and comfort afforded by the vehicle,” he said.

“Based on feedback received by drivers, passengers are also impressed with the comfort and quietness of the vehicle. They generally share an experience of being part of the future (of transport).

“The fact that the vehicle produces zero emissions is also an attractive feature.”

Mr Marshall said the trial was providing valuable experience for Swan Taxis in operating EVs as taxis.

“We believe that we are the first taxi dispatch company in Australia to introduce EVs to the passenger fleet,” he said.

“Our benefit is from learning and providing a point of difference in the market.”

Asked if Swan would look at buying more Ioniqs or Konas - or other EVs from other manufacturers - Mr Marshall said “certainly”.

“However our learnings so far show that the cost of vehicles, the relatively low range, and the shortage of recharging facilities creates restrictions in running a full EV taxi fleet,” he said.

“In the near future this will change, and with this we expect to see a growth in EV taxis.”

Swan Taxis has a recharge program and schedule for its two EVs but said it needs a greater recharge infrastructure needs to exist to make them more viable.

Mr Lane drives his Ioniq taxi during the day and charges up at home at night.

When not at home, he uses Perth’s sole rapid-charger at the RAC office in the central business district that will charge to 80 per cent capacity in one hour, or some of the fast chargers dotted around the city and suburbs that give 10 per cent of the range with a one-hour charge.

“I have an app on my phone that tells me where they are but I can’t use a Tesla charger because the plug is different,” Mr Lane said.

Swan has looked at the Kona EV in line with the move by its Singapore parent. However Mr Marshall said the Australian market prefers a sedan.

“We like the Kona EV and its longer range but customers prefer a sedan for its size,” he said.

“The Ioniq is comfortable for up to four passengers and has a large luggage area and is better suited to our market than the Kona.”

Mr Lane said the Ioniq Electric has plenty of power - even though he doesn’t switch it out of “eco” mode - and he’s had four passengers and luggage on a trip up the long gradient road to the hilltop suburb of Kalamunda without feeling any effect on power loss.

Would you prefer an electric taxi? Tell us what you think in the comments below.