Friday, December 8, 2006

Green Taxis, Clarification

Regarding my Green Taxis post, a concerned reader asked, in so many words, "What's your point?"

Having clearly failed to make my point(s) clearly, allow me to clarify.

I have three related points:

  • Taxis are already part of the solution. The green quotient of taxi service goes well beyond the fuel economy of the taxi fleet. Readily available taxi service reduces overall dependence on automobiles and promotes use of public transportation.
  • The benefit of "greening" the taxi fleet is nominal. There are only 80-something cars in the Newton taxi fleet. While there may be some public relations value to having less conspicuously consuming taxis, the actual fuel savings is a drop in the bucket compared to the overall amount of fuel consumed by vehicles within the Newton borders.
  • Green taxis either pay for themselves, in which case the fleet owners will get to them in due time, or they don't. If they don't, somebody's got to bear the extra cost. Given all the other issues on the aldercritter docket, does it make sense to push for something that costs taxi owners, taxi customers, or the town extra money?
I don't mean to suggest that a green taxi program is on the docket or under short-term consideration. But, the issue came up and I wanted to put the suggestion in the context of the environmental value of taxis generally. That value is often overlooked.

I think my other point about taxis is clearer, but let me make sure. I want taxis to drive slower through Newton. The moment of a taxi owner request for extending the fuel surcharge seemed like a good opportunity to point out the fuel-wasting behavior.

How does a chip address both problems? Modern car and truck engines have computer chips that control lots of things, including fuel and air flow to the engine. Air and fuel flow determine the power that an engine generates, how much fuel an engine consumes, and, indirectly, how long an engine lasts. Manufacturers try to balance power, fuel economy, and durability concerns. Modern-day hot rodders "chip" their cars, by replacing the chip that comes with the car with an after-market version that is programmed to tip the balance towards power at the expense of economy and durability.

Concievably, a chip could be created that sacrifices power for fuel economy. Put such a chip in taxis and taxi drivers wouldn't be able to drive as aggressively. And, they'd get better mileage.

Keep in mind that many (most) taxis are either retired police cruisers or bought-new civilian versions of the police cruisers. Both police and taxis have similar requirements for durability and 'round-the-clock use. That's why taxis use the same models.

But, police have a requirement for performance that taxis don't have. No matter, taxis get the power as a by-product of the other shared requirements.

A chip could cure the problem.

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