Juneau’s first fully electric taxi will be up and running soon, according to its owner Mike Orford.
Orford, a former engineer for the state ferry system, has been driving a taxi in Juneau for the past few years but a concern for the environment led him to purchase a Chevy Bolt for his routes.
“I think that global warming is a pretty serious issue,” Orford told the Empire in an interview. “It’s up to individuals to address it. Seeing as I’m out there with a gas-guzzling taxi, I jumped at this,” he said, referring to the fully electric Bolt he saw for sale at Mendenhall Auto Center.
Orford has driven for Juneau Taxi and EverGreen Taxi but will drive his Bolt exclusively for EverGreen.
Orford said that many taxi companies hadn’t yet gotten into the electric vehicle market. Some larger cities have begun converting taxi fleets to electric vehicles but those cities are typically large enough to justify such an investment or have done so to comply with government regulation.
He said the company he bought his taximeter from, Centrodyne, had asked him to keep them updated on his progress because his car was the first Chevy Bolt they had supplied in the United States.
“It’s just a matter of economics,” Lee Marcellus, technical support for Vermont-based Centrodyne said. Currently, electric vehicles are too expensive to have mass appeal to taxi companies, particularly with increased competition from ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft, according to Marcellus.
Marcellus said that Centrodyne had outfitted one Chevy Bolt in Montreal and a few Teslas in Portland, but Orford’s was the first Bolt in the United States they had sold to.
“It’s new,” Marcellus said of electric cars generally. Electric vehicles in the taxi industry, “will come with time.”
EverGreen Taxi service could not be reached for comment.
Orford still has to pass inspection with the city but is confident that he’ll be able to make money with his new electric car.
“It doesn’t use $50 a day worth of gas,” Orford said. “It’s much cheaper to operate.”
Another benefit of an electric vehicle, Orford said, is lack of maintenance costs.
“It has probably around 20 moving parts instead of 2,000 like any gas car,” he said.
There are, however, limits to what Orford can do with his electric taxi.
“I can put 300 miles a day on a taxi, easily,” he said. “This only has a range of 238, then it takes nine-and-a-half hours to charge it back up. You’re going to have to plan its schedule carefully.”
But Juneau was well positioned to support this kind of venture, Orford said. Juneau has a number of electric charging stations and a limited amount of road.
“If I was in Ketchikan, probably couldn’t do it,” he said. “They don’t have the infrastructure. Juneau does.”
Orford said that he was sure that taxi companies in Juneau would be watching his efforts closely to see if investments in electric vehicles were something worth pursuing.
“Taxi cab companies look at all costs,” Duff Mitchell, managing director at Juneau Hydropower Inc. said. “Basically, the only maintenance costs for an electric car are tires and windshield wipers.”
Mitchell agrees that electric vehicles are becoming increasingly attractive for both private citizens and businesses.
“Costs are dropping,” he said. “Mike’s just on a leading edge.”
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.