Natural Gas Taxis Heading to Los Angeles and Chicago

The next time you hail a taxi, you could be jumping in to one that runs on compressed natural gas (CNG). Chicago and Los Angeles are now the two latest cities to roll out Ford Transit Connect Taxis fueled by CNG.

In Chicago today, Taxi Medallion Management will put 12 Ford Transit Connect Taxis powered by CNG into service as part of an event celebrating the increased presence of CNG in Chicago. A CNG Ford Transit Connect Taxi will participate in the opening of a new Clean Energy CNG filling station and natural gas advocate T. Boone Pickens will speak at the event after arriving in a CNG Transit Connect Taxi.

Ford also announced two Los Angeles-area cab companies have ordered nearly 120 Ford Transit Connect CNG Taxis, adding the nation's second-largest city to the growing list of large urban areas quickly adopting the versatile vehicle.

"The Transit Connect Taxi was developed using market research we conducted with the taxi industry to better understand what customers wanted in a future vehicle," said Gerald Koss, marketing manager, Ford Fleet Operations. "The more conversations we had, the more interest we saw in a taxi with the flexibility of offering a compressed natural gas version."

Los Angeles and Chicago aren't the only cities jumping on the CNG taxi bandwagon. In Connecticut, Metro Taxi of West Haven and Yellow Cab Company of Hartford have ordered a total of 70 Transit Connect Taxis that will be powered by CNG and in service by the end of summer. Other cities where CNG Transit Connect Taxis have been ordered include Las Vegas and St. Louis.

Philadelphia is expected to join the list after city officials there recently approved it for use as well, said Koss.

California, here it comes

Yellow Cab of Anaheim and Cabco Yellow Inc. of Orange County have ordered a combined 119 CNG-powered Transit Connect Taxis. The first 50 will be delivered within the next two months. The rest are scheduled to be delivered by the end of 2011.

The Ford dealership, South Bay Ford in Los Angeles, will deliver the taxi units to the cab companies.

Larry Gach, sales manager, Ford Commercial Truck Sales and Marketing, said he expects orders in California to increase after the California Air Resources Board (CARB) approved the use of Transit Connect Taxis modified by BAF Technologies to run on CNG. BAF Technologies has been certified by Ford as a Quality Vehicle Modifier to convert standard Transit Connect Taxis into CNG-powered cabs.

CARB is part of the California Environmental Protection Agency, an organization that reports to the governor's office and is designed to promote and protect public health, welfare and ecological resources through reduction of air pollutants.

To receive CARB certification, a vehicle must demonstrate that its exhaust and evaporative emission control systems are durable and comply with the emission standards for the vehicle's useful life.

Blowing into the Windy City

Taxi Medallion Management bought the 12 CNG Transit Connect Taxis it is putting into service today earlier this year.

The purchase is part of the company's goal of reducing emissions by 25 percent, said Michael Levine, CEO of Taxi Medallion Management. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, CNG is less expensive and burns cleaner than gasoline, resulting in 30 to 40 percent less greenhouse gas emissions.

"We are adding CNG-powered vehicles to our fleet in order to reduce the effective cost of fuel for our drivers, and to introduce cleaner vehicles for the environment," said Levine.

Ford offers engine prep packages that allow conversions to CNG and liquefied propane gas (LPG). Both CNG and LPG lower taxi fleets' operating costs and are better for the environment.

CNG Transit Connect Taxis in other regions

Orders of CNG Transit Connect Taxis are expected to come from other areas of the country as well, including Philadelphia, the fifth-largest metropolitan area in the United States. City officials there approved the CNG Transit Connect Taxi for use on its streets. The city regulates the types of vehicles that can be used as taxis. To be approved, a vehicle must meet basic size requirements for headroom, legroom and cargo space.

"The Ford CNG Transit Connect Taxi has many great features of interest to the riding public," said James Ney, director, Taxicab & Limousine Division, Philadelphia Parking Authority. "Its abbreviated footprint makes it perfect for use on our narrow, congested streets here in Philadelphia."

The amount of space in the Transit Connect Taxi is winning over taxicab company owners such as Fred Sweets, of St. Louis American Cab. He recently ordered his first Transit Connect Taxi that will be modified to run on CNG.

Sweets said he was immediately intrigued by the shape and size of the Transit Connect when he first saw it being driven as a delivery van.

But before buying one, Sweets said he conducted his own research by asking users of the standard Transit Connect, such as flower delivery businesses, about their experiences with the small commercial van.

"I asked them how they liked it, what their mileage was and how it was holding up," said Sweets. "I got nothing but praise for the vehicle. I knew then that I had to add it to our fleet."