An upstart taxi cab company is hoping to launch in Arlington County the nation's first all-electric fleet of cabs, which would be equipped with backseat iPads and wireless Internet access.
The proposed 40-car fleet from Electric Vehicle Taxicab Company, or EV Taxicabs, would allow passengers to browse the Web, listen to music or get directions to local attractions while they ride. The iPads also would allow riders to pay with a credit card.
The company first needs to win approval from the Arlington County Board next month
"Now is the time to be more technologically advanced," Malik Khattak, the company's founder, said. "No one should be going around asking different cabs if they take credit cards."
The company would also be one of the first nationally to incorporate iPads into their taxis, something the Wisconsin-based Green Cab of Madison did in 2010. Ken Rockwell, Green Cab's operations supervisor, said the transition to iPads was successful, as the cars are now quieter because they have less equipment, which in turn requires less driver training.
EV Taxicabs' concept is the latest new wrinkle in public transportation in the D.C. region. In the District, the taxi industry was tossed into turmoil by new regulations requiring them to add credit card payments and GPS navigation systems to every cab and by the introduction of a new town car service, Uber, that operates from a smartphone app. Cab owners complain that Uber has an unfair advantage and District officials for months have been trying to figure out how to regulate a service that is neither a taxi or a limousine.
Unlike Uber, however, EV Taxicabs arrival in Arlington isn't causing nearly as much upheaval for cab companies already operating there.
Rick Vogel, the general manager of Envirocab, the county's first completely hybrid, "carbon-negative" taxi company, questioned the feasibility of an all-electric fleet given that recent studies show that electric cars could run only 60 to 100 miles without recharging. Envirocab has a 50-car fleet and is testing one electric vehicle.
"The jury's still out for me," Vogel said. "I think there are still some kinks to work out."
Envirocab and Arlington Blue Top Cabs, which operates 166 cabs in the county, wouldn't be put at a disadvantage by EV Taxicabs' technologies, the companies said. Both already equip their cabs with GPS navigation systems and terminals to process credit card payments.
"We approve of new innovations," Blue Top Vice President John Massoud said. "We're just not 100 percent sure [how long the cars can hold a charge] and don't want our passengers to be the guinea pigs."
The Arlington County Board is expected to decide in November whether to add 65 new cabs, including EV Taxicabs' 40, to the 765 taxis that now operate in the county. If approved, Khattak said EV Taxicabs would pay to put electric-car chargers throughout the county. Those chargers would be available for public use for a fee, he said.