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(Global-Warming)MeetWorld1stHybrid-CabDriver August 11, 2005 1:01 PM

Big Mellow TaxiMeet the world's first hybrid-cab driver By Brendan Sainsbury 02 Aug 2005 Like any self-respecting cabbie, Andrew Grant has a talent for small talk. But when the conversation turns to his prized 2004 Toyota Prius, things get a bit more animated. Andrew Grant."Gave Cameron Diaz a lift once," he says matter-of-factly, leading me toward the Vancouver curb where the curvaceous car is parked. "Oh, yeah? What did she say?" "She said, 'This is nothing, I've got two.'" "What -- two hybrids?" He pauses just long enough to keep things respectable: "Yeah." Fame, as Andy Warhol once so eloquently opined, is a universal phenomenon, and Grant boasts his own rather lofty claim to it, with oodles of dashing self-confidence. While Cameron Diaz might have made an environmental name for herself driving a hybrid and Trippin' all over the planet, this Canadian cab operator has been carving out his own niche: he is the (self-proclaimed) world's first hybrid-taxi driver. The humble hybrid has come a long way since it was introduced in North America in 1999. Last year, sales of the gas-electric vehicles topped 80,000 in the U.S. And while the efficient cars have proved popular with eco-minded commuters and day-trippers, those who make their living behind the wheel have even more reason to believe: it just makes good business sense. Last year, a diesel/electric version of London's famous black cab was launched on the British capital's streets. In February, San Francisco added 15 hybrid Ford Escapes to its fleet. Not to be outdone, New York's City Council recently voted to begin greening the Big Apple's nearly 13,000 yellow cabs. It's a move that, according to a recent Sierra Club report, could reduce emissions of global-warming pollutants in the city by up to 50 percent. To Grant, of course, all this is old hat. "Got my first Prius in November 2000," he tells me, lifting up the hood of his well-polished model to allow me a peek inside, where I see an engine so clean I could quite conceivably eat my dinner off of it. It soon becomes clear that the Vancouver resident is no fly-by-night fan. "I first started tracking the hybrid prototypes in the early 1980s," he continues. "So when the Japanese brought out the original commercial model in 1997, the benefits seemed obvious. Firstly, the car was environmentally friendly, and secondly -- as far as taxis go -- it was far more cost-effective." The Prius will free us.Grant -- a one-time car salesman who, when he's not driving, is studying to be an executive business coach -- is on his third Prius now. (Toyota, seizing a chance to evaluate the car's durability, took his original back after he'd driven it 200,000 miles in 25 months and exchanged it with a 2003 model, fully outfitted for fares.) Compared to conventional taxis, his current 2004 Prius saves between $900 and $1,100 per month in fuel costs alone, and his repair bills -- thanks to automotive innovations such as regenerative braking, which reduces wear and tear on the brake pads -- have been cut by more than half. Though he would prove to be a profit prophet, Grant says he faced uncertainty in the early days. Despite local intrigue -- the downtown Toyota dealership used to call him over to show off his rare vehicle to tentative buyers, and even give test drives -- his peers viewed the move as akin to sticking his head under a well-oiled guillotine, and customers were leery. "People looked upon it as a kind of glorified golf cart," says John Palis, general manager of Yellow Cab Company, under whose umbrella Grant operates. But as the car grew more popular, attitudes changed almost overnight -- in Vancouver, at least -- and, says Palis, "the vehicle became cool." Yellow Cab, British Columbia's largest taxi operation, now counts more than 40 hybrids in its fleet of 210 cars. "We're currently [planning to convert] approximately 25 to 30 of our vehicles over a year," Palis tells me from his busy East Vancouver office, where phone lines buzz and drivers saunter in and out to shoot the breeze with their amiable boss. He says customers have, for the most part, been pleased with the ride: "These days, we tend to get two main reactions when they initially get in. They are surprised by the size of the interior -- trunk space, leg room, etc. -- and they are freaked out by the lack of noise." That disquieting quiet is a consequence of the vehicle switching over to its battery-operated electric engine when idling or in slow-moving traffic. To get a taste of the action, I accept an offer to test the hybrid-cab waters with Amarjeet Kang, alias "Chico" -- Grant's cab-sharing colleague, whom he has summoned on his ever-buzzing Blackberry to take me out for an introductory spin. Tooling through Vancouver's low-rise Mount Pleasant district in the spotless vehicle, we get into a prickly altercation with an SUV at a four-way stop a few blocks west of Cambie Street. "My right of way!" exclaims Chico over the silent motor, a wave of the hand suggesting that he's not over-enamored with the idea of getting summarily shrink-wrapped. The confrontation is quite telling. Vancouver, a city known for being clean and green, is also host to a rampant proliferation of SUVs. In a country where the average family size is a mere 1.5 children or fewer, parents seem to like their cars big and brash. But with oil prices surging and the U.S. government finally admitting that global warming might be something more than a storm in a teacup, the Edwardian summer of the SUV must surely be drawing to a close. And waiting in the wings, the once lowly hybrid is ready to fight back.  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
 August 11, 2005 1:02 PM

As far as Grant is concerned, the fight is already on. "I'd say 30 percent of my business now comes from 'green' customers," he says. "That is, people who specifically dial me up for environmental reasons." Included in this eco-roll call are local stalwarts Greenpeace Canada, the David Suzuki Foundation, the British Columbia Children's Hospital, and tech giant Ballard Power Systems, a leader in the development of zero-emission fuel-cell technology. In short, hybrids save gas, save money, and might just change North America's city streets. But above all, says Grant, his history-making Prius is "a fun car to drive. Because of the electrically assisted steering you don't get any tug on the wheel. A day in the driver's seat, and I'm still not feeling tired." For cab drivers the world over, that might be the best news of all. Hail the Cabs!Hybrid taxis to hit the streets of New York City this fall Six different hybrid models will debut in New York City's taxi fleet this fall, thanks to a recent vote by the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission. Some commissioners had previously expressed reservations about the leg room (or lack thereof) in hybrids, but after test drives, one termed Toyota's Prius and Highlander "surprisingly roomy." The commission didn't have much of a choice -- Mayor Mike Bloomberg forced its hand by signing a bill last week that gave it 90 days to approve hybrids -- but commission chair Matthew Daus seems converted to curbing gasoline use, saying, "Pardon the pun, but I think bigger cars need to take a back seat." Allowing six different models into the fleet will enable the commission to learn which hybrids stand up best to the beating they're likely to take on the streets of the Big Apple. straight to the source: The New York Times, Sewell Chan, 27 Jul 2005 straight to the source: New York Daily News, Jonathan Lemire, 27 Jul 2005 Canadian government has adopted new global warming standards based on California's global warming law! Canada, carmakers sign tough emissions pact Deal could force adoption of similar stringent rules for vehicles sold in U.S. - Robert Collier, Chronicle Staff Writer Wednesday, April 6, 2005 Faced with the threat that Canada would adopt tough, California- style rules on auto emissions, major automakers agreed Tuesday to voluntarily reduce the global-warming emissions of cars and light trucks sold north of the border. Auto industry watchdogs said the deal, signed Tuesday in Windsor, Ontario, by officials of the Canadian government and the nation's automobile industry, could force automakers to adopt similar stringent emissions rules for vehicles sold throughout the United States. The agreement follows the lead of regulations adopted last November in California, which U.S. automakers -- the same multinational giants that dominate Canada's auto industry -- are seeking to overturn in court. Tuesday's pact commits the manufacturers to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions of their vehicles sold in Canada by 5.3 million metric tons -- about 25 percent -- by the end of 2010. In comparison, rules adopted in California oblige automakers to reduce their global-warming emissions by 30 percent, starting in 2009 and culminating in 2016. Supporters of California's rules praised Tuesday's deal but said it showed the automakers were being two-faced, voluntarily adopting standards in Canada that they oppose south of the border. "From the purely legal perspective, today's deal may not bolster our case in defending the (California) regulations," said Tom Dresslar, spokesman for the state attorney general's office, which is defending California against separate lawsuits in federal District Court and state Superior Court in Fresno. "But it shows that the steps on global warming that car manufacturers say would wreak havoc in California are eminently doable," he said. "If you look at the history of this industry, whenever there are regulations proposed about safety, consumers and the environment, Detroit comes out with the Chicken Little routine, and that has never turned out to be an accurate prediction of the future." In Canada, auto officials put the best face on the deal. "Canada's automobile industry has a long history of introducing new technologies that make the vehicles we produce more environmentally friendly and safer," said Joe Hinrichs, chair of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers' Association as well as president and CEO of Ford of Canada. "We remain committed to doing our fair share to reduce greenhouse emissions while contributing to economic growth." Because the only known way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions is to increase fuel efficiency, the new standards will force an unprecedented increase in gas mileage for more than one-third of the vehicles sold in North America. New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine have adopted California's strict emissions targets. With this mass of auto buyers now joined by millions of Canadians, the auto industry is under increasing pressure to adopt the new levels for all its fleets, rather than offering different models for the two different markets. Canada's voluntary deal may have been set in motion by unprecedented cooperation between California officials and their Canadian counterparts, who have met in recent months to discuss the possibility of Canada's adopting California's air quality rules.  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
 August 11, 2005 1:02 PM

In November, Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, a Democrat whose district spans Los Angeles and Ventura counties and who drafted the state law that prompted the new regulations, visited Canada's capital, Ottawa. She lobbied officials and legislators to pass tough laws on global warming, and her advocacy fell on willing ears in the administration of Prime Minister Paul Martin. In January, Martin dispatched Environment Minister Stephane Dion to Sacramento to investigate California's strategy on global warming. Dion used his visit, which was extensively covered by the Canadian press, to threaten automakers that his government would propose legislation mandating reform unless the firms acted voluntarily. Two weeks later, the automakers resumed the talks that led to Tuesday's deal. "California's pressure and the cross-border visits were very instrumental in helping the Canadian government to move forward and get the deal," said John Bennett, senior policy adviser for energy for the Sierra Club of Canada. Soon after the pact was signed Tuesday, Martin backed down in a related fight with the opposition Conservative Party. His aides announced that he would accede to demands to remove language from the proposed federal budget that would have made it easier to impose new controls such as a tax on all carbon emissions by industry. The Conservatives had threatened to reject the budget, a move that under Canada's parliamentary system would have toppled Martin's minority government and forced new elections.  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
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