Back in 2010, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency was awarded a $7 million regional grant to oversee a fleet of 61 electric taxi cabs, complete with four battery sapping stations.
Two years later, neither the taxi cabs, nor the battery swap stations have been launched.
According to battery swap company Better Place, however, the all-electric taxi service will launch next year.
Although Better Place launched its network of battery swap stations in Israel earlier this year, forecasting it would be profitable in two years time, the recent departure of CEO and founder Shai Agassi has left many analysts questioning its future.
Talking with SFExaminer, Better Place spokesman John Proctor seemed confident about the company's goal to bring battery swapping to San Francisco by next 2013.
The delays to this point, he explained, were due to a lack of necessary private-public partnerships with the cities of San Francisco and San Jose. Without those partnerships, he explained, the final planning of the network could not go ahead.
Proctor also admitted that the meticulously detailed planning blueprints required for the eTaxi Program had taken longer than expected.
2012 Coda Sedan
2012 Coda SedanEnlarge Photo
Planning the swap stations hasn’t been the only issue, either.
In Israel and Amsterdam, where Better Place currently has battery swap networks in place, the 2012 Renault Fluence--a car specifically designed in collaboration with Better Place to accommodate its battery swap technology--is readily available to consumers.
But not a single Renault--gasoline, diesel or electric--is sold in the U.S., forcing Better Place to find an alternative car for its San Francisco taxis.
The unlikely bedfellow, according to some reports, is Coda Automotive: not because of its low sales figures to date, but because its $38,145 Sedan isn’t battery swap ready.
Making it so is the job of FEV Inc, a subcontractor tasked with re-engineering the Coda to make it work with Better Place swap station technology.
With the passing of time, the project scope has changed too.
Unlike the initial grant, the latest contract paperwork--which also carries an additional $3 million in funding--indicates only two battery swap stations and six battery-switchable cars will be built.
The renewed interest in the project, however, has yet to reach San Francisco’s taxi cab drivers.
“I don’t believe the current generation of electric vehicles are ready for taxi use,” said cab driver and taxi advocate Paul Gillespie.
Gillespie is former President of the San Francisco Taxi Commission (1999-2009) and the founder of the advocacy group LowCarbontaxis.Org, as well as the principal author of San Francisco’s current clean-taxi law.
And he remains skeptical.
Instead, he suggested, “the world taxi fleet needs immediate and widespread adoption of hybrid vehicles.”