A Wisconsin Cab Company Is Betting Big On Tesla

Screenshot: Youtube

After launching as an all-hybrid taxi service nearly ten years ago, Green Cab Madison is taking a big next step. They’re welcoming a fleet of 20 Tesla Model 3 taxis to their fleet and aim to replace the rest of their hybrid cabs with more EVs next year.

The Wisconsin State Journal reports that the electric taxis have joined the fleet as part of a $5 million initiative in conjunction with Zerology, a local startup that has developed hailing and payment software that takes the place of the traditional meter in Green Cab’s cars. Zerology will maintain ownership of the cars, leasing the fleet to Green Cab.

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While the Teslas do not emit any greenhouse gases at present, the State Journal explains that Green Cab won’t see a net decrease in emissions as an immediate result of putting this fleet to work. Citing a study from the Union of Concerned Scientists, the paper explains that because Madison receives most of its power from coal-fired power plants, each Tesla will be responsible for as much pollution as a normal car getting 40 or so mpg. That’s a drop from the Priuses the Model 3s replace, but Green Cab plans to install solar panels to power its charging equipment soon which would dramatically decrease the fleet’s environmental impact.

Though they may be some of the first Tesla cabs on the road in the United States, Green Cab’s Model 3s are joining a handful of fleets around the world attempting to replace internal combustion-powered taxis with battery-powered EVs. In places like Indonesia and Amsterdam, where government incentives to switch to EVs are generous, cabbies have found success with Tesla taxis, though there have been some difficulties elsewhere.

One such city is Montreal, where Téo, a startup with a fleet of Teslas and other EVs laid off 460 drivers and closed up shop earlier this year, according to the Montreal Gazette. Though the failure of the company can’t be attributed solely to the fleet in use–Téo attempted to disrupt the established taxi cab livery model, using an hourly employment model rather than the more common contractor system in place in most taxi garages–the high prices of the Model Ses in service with the company could have contributed.

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Téo also found itself in trouble with private Tesla owners as well as with its creditors. No, they weren’t plugging in their cars to other peoples’ electricity. Without superchargers of their own, Teo drivers would make heavy use of the limited number of Superchargers in the Montreal area, causing congestion and wait time for other Tesla owners. Some frustrated owners took to forums to complain about the practice, calling it “Supercharger abuse.” I struggle to see how using these chargers is any different from using a gas station to fill up a traditional taxi, but maybe I’m missing something.

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Of course, charging time affects taxi drivers as well as dwell time while the battery fills up could cut far more deeply into money-making shift time than a fill-up at a gas station would. Still, when we spoke to Christian, a Tesla taxi driver from Quebec City, back in 2016 that didn’t seem to be a problem. What was a problem for Christian, though, was drivetrain issues.

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Though the EV drivetrain is more mechanically simple than an internal combustion engine, Teslas have seen more than their fair share of reliability and build quality concerns, which are serious enough on a private vehicle. On a fleet vehicle, where use is more intense and uptime is money, setbacks from malfunctioning components can be a big sap on profits, so I’m keen to see how Green Cab Madison holds up.

Even though Green Cab Madison’s 20-car initial fleet is small, it will undoubtedly be an important test case in the implementation of fleets of electric vehicles. DHL has already heavily invested in EVs for package delivery and Amazon is reportedly planning on introducing 100,000 Rivian delivery vans by 2024, so the trend is clearly towards greater fleet electrification. The only question seems to be how it can be done correctly, not whether it can be done at all, and I hope Green Cab Madison can pull it off.

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Max Finkel

Max Finkel is a Weekend Contributor at Jalopnik.