• Thu. Jun 13th, 2024

Edinburgh Council puts misguided pressure on taxi drivers to make the switch to EVs

ByAlma Freeman

Feb 14, 2023
An image of several black taxis waiting at the taxi rank outside Edinburgh Waverley station

The Edinburgh Council’s plan to reduce taxi and private hire car (PHC) carbon emissions is putting pressure on local drivers to switch to electric vehicles (EVs). Effective April 1st of this year, new petrol and diesel vehicles must meet Euro 6 emissions regulations to be registered for service. Additionally, a Low Emission Zone (LEZ) located in the city center will begin to be enforced in summer of 2024. 

These changes, plus the UK’s government’s commitment to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030, combine to put pressure on drivers to make the switch. But electric taxis may not actually lead to a greener Edinburgh.

EVs cost anywhere upwards of 60 thousand pounds – almost double the cost of a brand-new Euro 6 taxi, and triple that of some secondhand vehicles. With the taxi business still recovering from the impact of Covid-19, many drivers are unable to make such an investment. Drivers can apply for loans, usually of 5 to 7 thousand pounds, through the Energy Savings Trust to help finance an EV. 

However, these are only available every few months and are limited in supply. To apply for a loan, drivers have to meet certain eligibility criteria, including providing evidence of past earnings. “How do we finance a new vehicle when we have no earnings for the past two years due to Covid?” one driver points out. 

Many are also concerned that EVs are not as profitable as a petrol or diesel taxi. Drivers look forward to runs to Glasgow, Perth or Aberdeen to boost wages, but an EV with a reduced range cannot handle these trips. “There’s not a lot in it,” another driver told me in reference. He believes that EVs are very “early days” and wouldn’t risk investing in one just yet. Other drivers agree, telling me that they are struggling to break even, and investing in a vehicle that may not be profitable is not in the cards for them right now. 

Charging points are another key issue. Many drivers are hesitant to purchase an EV because Edinburgh lacks the infrastructure to support them. I spoke to an EV driver who confirmed this: “Charging in Edinburgh is a joke,” he said. He described how half of the city’s charging points do not work, and at the ones that do, physical altercations between drivers are common. He and many EV drivers have no choice but to compete for these chargers as they live in flats, and are therefore unable to install private chargers. Additionally, for taxis that are operated by multiple drivers (usually three – one for the dayshift, nightshift and weekends respectively), EVs are not an option because charging time can eliminate an entire job. 

While expenses and infrastructure are significant obstacles, they may not be the biggest roadblock to a citywide reduction of carbon emissions. Private hire car companies like Uber have expanded rapidly in the UK over the past ten years. Although PHCs are subject to the same emissions regulations as taxis, there is no cap on the number of PHCs allowed to operate within the city. There are currently around 1,300 black cabs operating in Edinburgh, but over 3,000 PHCs. 

“It’s overprovisioning,” says Scott Blair, chairman of the Unite Edinburgh Cab Branch. The Unite Edinburgh Cab Branch have been campaigning to limit the number of PHCs on the road since 2019. “By continuing to increase the number of vehicles licensed to be on the road then Edinburgh risks increased congestion in one of the most polluted cities in the UK,” Scott said to the BBC in 2019. 

This begs the question: is putting pressure on Edinburgh taxi drivers to switch to EVs really going to lead to a citywide reduction in carbon emissions? Or is it simply the best way for the Council to appear to be taking action while avoiding spending money and disturbing a powerful industry? “There is a way of doing it – it’s peoples’ livelihoods. They could put grants in place, financial plans – but nothing,” one driver said sadly. Edinburgh taxi drivers feel pressured and ignored. The future of their livelihoods is at risk. The Edinburgh Council has the power to help, but many drivers doubt that they will.

Taxi Rank, Edinburgh Waverley Railway Station, Scotland” by David McKelvey is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.