Transport has the biggest single impact on New Zealand's energy-related emissions. Cars are a big part of that, with 83% of all our travel done by car. So for taxi companies that clock up serious kms each year, it's not surprising that reducing emissions might be a hard road.
Having said that, there's a growing number of taxi companies who are committed to reducing their impact, like Blue Bubble Taxis, New Zealand's largest taxi group, who say they've been phasing out petrol-only cars since 2008. Or Uber, who operate in New Zealand and have made a global commitment to being a zero-emission platform by 2040.
EkoCabs is another company that's going further for the planet. The founders of EkoCabs, Ayo Oyawale and Tayo Agunlejika, like to think of themselves as enviropreneurs. "We've taken an entrepreneurial view of the future by coming up with a solution to an environmental issue that exists today," says Ayo.
The pair met while working with Green Cabs in Wellington which went into liquidation in May 2020. Tayo was the Operations Manager for Green Cabs while Ayo was a part-time taxi driver and full-time pastor. Both of them were electric vehicle (EV) converts. Ayo bought a new Hyundai Ioniq three weeks before Green Cabs folded and he suggested to Tayo they could fill the gap left by the company.
"From the start, we had a vision of advocating for the taxi sector to move to electric vehicles," says Ayo. "To do that we decided to model what an electric taxi fleet would look like and how it would operate."
From one to many
EkoCabs started with just one cab — Ayo’s Ioniq — but winning a sub-contract to service Air New Zealand provided them with the certainty they needed to bring on more drivers. As of July 2021, the company has 30 cars in Wellington with a 50-50 split between full electric and hybrid cars.
“We want to get taxi drivers out of hybrids and into EVs instead,” says Ayo. “The big barriers that prevent taxi drivers switching to EVs are the cost and range anxiety. We started the business during lockdown when nobody knew what the future was like and we didn't feel we could ask drivers to buy a $65,000 EV. So we have drivers with hybrids but taxis need to be replaced every 10 years according to NZTA standards. Our plan is to facilitate drivers with hybrid cars into EVs when they need to replace their vehicles.”
To do that, EkoCabs is facilitating conversations with funding partners, because conventional finance providers don't always understand the taxi sector, according to Ayo. They’re also looking at setting up a rent-to-own program for drivers and introducing options for carpooling and car sharing. EkoCabs has also teamed up with Zilch, the car sharing company, to rent some of their EV fleet as part of a co-branded collaboration.
Out on the range
As for range anxiety, Ayo is on a mission to educate taxi drivers about just how capable EVs are of handling the mileage required to do a shift.
“In a typical shift, a taxi driver might do 200 to 250 kms and the Ioniq, for example, does about 300 kms on a full charge. If it's a really long shift, then drivers might need to park up and charge but most drivers get away without having to charge during their shift. Most of them charge their cars to full before a shift and plug in again when they get home.”
EkoCabs drivers have also done longer trips, taking clients from Wellington to Palmerston North, for example, a round trip of almost 300 kms. Ayo says customers have been quick to embrace EV taxis which has given the company the confidence to tackle some of the other issues facing the sector.
“The charging network in Wellington is good but it could be better,” he says. “Once you move away from the city centre it becomes a bit of an issue. Sometimes there’s a queue for fast chargers so more are needed. We're working on a project to develop an alternative charging infrastructure for taxis and couriers and other high-use, high-demand vehicles. That will be key to widespread adoption of EVs by taxis and logistics companies. It’s still early stages but we’re excited about the potential for that.”
Long term vision
In April 2021 alone, EkoCabs’ EVs saved almost 1 tonne of CO2 emissions on fares to and from Wellington Airport. It’s just the beginning, says Ayo.
“Our ultimate vision is that every taxi service in every city in New Zealand is electric,” he says. “There's more than 16,000 taxis in the country so that would be a significant carbon saving. People will have to start considering alternative options to owning a car and the taxi doesn't have to be the enemy.”
Ayo sees the recent rebate scheme to make EVs cheaper as a positive step but wants the government and local councils to “take the bull by the horns and mandate the shift to EV taxis at a set future date.”
Ayo points to Oslo, the capital city of Norway, which has installed wireless, induction-based charging stations for electric taxis in a bid to make their cab system zero-emission by 2024.
New Zealand may be a long way from an all-EV taxi fleet, but Ayo and Tayo are excited about the journey. Following a successful launch in Wellington, EkoCabs is expanding its service to Auckland and Christchurch as well.
“People said EVs would never work as a taxi but I think we’ve proven that they can.”