An Arlington-based startup will find out today if it has won the hearts and minds — and votes — of enough elected officials in order to launch a 100-percent electric taxi fleet.
EV Taxicabs is among the companies the Arlington County Board could award certificates to that would allow them operate here. The company is in line for 40 certificates and has promised to install 56 charging stations around Arlington, which would be available for public use. It's a private investment waiting on a public body's blessing.
"Arlington is a leader, Arlington will be a leader and Arlington will stay a leader. We will make sure Arlington will become an example for others to follow," said Malik Khattak, president of EV Taxicabs.
Every two years, the county accepts applications for taxi operator certificates. It's a system that allows the local government to dictate exactly how many cabs are on the street and which companies they belong to. This year, 10 applications for new or additional certificates were received — including one from EV Taxicabs and three other new companies.
A small army of cab company representatives spent hours late last month making the case that they were environmentally friendly, but EV Taxicabs won over the county with "cool stuff," as one staff member put it, like the promise of installing charging stations around the county.
The Arlington County Board heard testimony for hours and deliberated until about 2 a.m. Nov. 28. It left the county staff with a list of questions and the promise to finish the discussion this Monday.
Many of the questions focused on the need for wheelchair-accessible cabs and on the viability of an all-electric fleet.
On the latter issue, board members and some in the community were concerned about long trips — to Dulles International Airport, for instance. Khattak said when a driver was requested for a long trip, his system would identify the first driver with enough of a charge to make the trip before assigning the route. The airport, he said, has charging stations. And many cab rentals to and from airports are made in advance, he said.
"We want to bring in electric vehicle adoption," Khattak told Patch. "People have range anxiety. We want to ease that anxiety."
EV Taxicabs, like most other companies asking the board for certificates, brought along a few supporters to last month's hearings. But plenty of people showed up simply to support electric vehicle adoption.
"They love the idea," Khattak said. "Because everyone gains. No one loses. If EV goes out of business, we can't just pull up all of the chargers."
Khattak told Patch he began working on the business plan for EV Taxicabs about two years ago. He's worked with Arlington Economic Development's BizLaunch initiative and has secured the finances for at least two years of operation.
That includes the phased roll-out of the 56 charging stations, which would occur during the first year. Khattak also has secured a number of partners, including Nissan North America, Dominion Virginia Power and AeroVironment.
"The industry as a whole is working to coordinate the simultaneous growth in electric vehicles with the growth in the charging infrastructure," according to a county staff report posted Thursday afternoon.
"The EV Taxicabs proposal addresses both vehicles and infrastructure, and it is that combination that makes the proposal feasible. The success of this firm could jump-start the acceptance and use of electric vehicles in Arlington and the D.C. metropolitan region, and be an important milestone in Arlington's leadership in transportation and the environment."
Sal Khattak, who is working with EV Taxicabs, said the questions and concerns brought up during the board's hearing and initial deliberations were helpful — that is, it made the company aware of what needed more research and provided the opportunity to educate people.
EV Taxicabs originally looked at Fairfax, Montgomery and Prince George's counties, along with Alexandria and Washington. Arlington was chosen as the best county to launch because of its size, its willingness to adopt new technologies and its disposition toward innovation, Malik Khattak said.
The two said they also wanted their company to operate in a regulated environment, as opposed to some nearby jurisdictions that have deregulated the taxi industry.
In all, 10 companies have requested 323 certificates from Arlington County — including 23 for wheelchair-accessible vehicles.
Arlington has 765 cabs. County Manager Barbara Donnellan has recommended adding 65 new certificates — bringing the total number of taxis here to 830, of which 37 would be wheelchair-accessible.
Because of the small allotment and the large number of requests, county staff has recommended suppling EV Taxicabs with 40 certificates. The company had requested 49, but the county determined 40 was the minimum needed to successfully break into the market here.
Staff also has recommended awarding 10 new certificates to enviroCAB (out of 40 requested) and five to Friendly Cab Co., a longtime Arlington business that needed that many to add a dispatch service. The board is likely to award another 10 certificates to Red Top and Blue Top cabs for wheelchair-accessible taxis.
The Arlington County Board will decide this matter at 5 p.m. Monday.