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London’s anticipated electric black cab launch loses its spark

LEVC TX London taxi
The highly anticipated launch of London’s first electric black taxi has pretty much fizzled after problems with the vehicle scuppered its smooth arrival.

The “TX” cabs, an updated version of the city’s iconic taxi design, are being built by the London Electric Vehicle Company (LEVC) and were supposed to arrive on the streets of the capital toward the end of 2017, the Guardian reported this week. But the car, which costs a hefty 55,600 pounds ($77,230), is no longer being delivered to drivers because of an issue with its meter, which is pretty important when you consider a taxi’s primary role.

The technical glitch reportedly results in fares much lower than they should be — a boon for tourists and locals hopping in for a ride across London, but not much good for a cabbie trying to make a living.

“Deliveries are subject to a short delay as a result of an unexpected issue with compatibility with the taxi meters and the taxi,” LEVC said in a tweet on Wednesday. “The problem is understood, and it involves the pulse messages sent between the vehicle and the meter.”

LEVC said it has found a solution and is now working with Transport for London (the city’s travel authority) and third-party meter suppliers “to get the updated, approved meters installed so we can begin customer deliveries in earnest.”

The new electric taxi has a driving range of 80 miles, but that extends to 400 miles with its three-cylinder petrol engine that performs as a generator for a battery pack and electric motor. The system could save cabbies 100 pounds ($138) a week compared to current diesel taxis, according to LEVC.

Inside the vehicle, riders will find seating for six people and modern features such as Wi-Fi and charging ports for mobile devices.

Steve McNamara, general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, told the Guardian that the TX is “a fantastic vehicle” and said it could help prompt locals to switch to “electric, clean and green” vehicles.

As for London cabbies, McNamara said many are currently reluctant to ditch their diesel-powered taxi, explaining, “We’ve got to pay 12,000 pounds ($16,700) more for a vehicle that we don’t know the reliability or durability of, at a time when the market is being squeezed by that company.” Yes, he’s referring to Uber.

Another issue is an apparent lack of fast-charging points, with only 90 currently in operation across the capital. To have a serious impact on emissions, cabbies will have to regularly charge their taxis to minimize their use of the gasoline range extender. TfL promises more rapid charging points are on the way.

The rollout of the new electric taxi is clearly presenting some serious challenges, but TfL is aiming for 9,000 of London’s more than 20,000 black cabs to be “zero-emission capable” within two years.

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