The electric taxi returns to London – 120 years later

The black cab is one of the iconic images of London. The tradition of black ‘Hackney Cabs’ goes back centuries, originally pulled by horses of course. In 1897 the first motorised taxi was introduced, and it was electric. It became known as the ‘hummingbird’, and the Science Museum has one of the last few remaining examples. The taxis recharged by swapping out their batteries, which took less than three minutes.

The inventor of the electric London taxi, Walter Bersey, hoped that his new vehicle would come to replace horse-drawn cabs as the new standard, but it was not to be. Electricity was still too expensive at the time, and the car was heavy and slow. Worst of all, it just wasn’t durable enough for the daily workload of a London cab. They began to rattle apart, and within two years the dozens of hummingbirds had had once served the city’s streets had been retired.

If Bersey’s taxi had come along just a few years later, it might have worked. Dunlop tyres were introduced to the car market in 1900, and they may have been enough to deal with the vibration problems that were the car’s downfall. The legal framework for proper power companies, and hence affordable electricity, came in 1899 and 1905. So Bersey was ahead of his time, and the world wasn’t ready for the electric cab. Horses kept going for another twenty years, and were eventually replaced by oil-powered combustion engines.

After 120 years, the electric taxi is finally making a comeback. London has been trying to wrestle down its air pollution problem for a few years, introducing a low emissions zone in 2008, trialing gas and hydrogen powered buses, and supporting hybrid vehicles. The transport authority has also been targeting taxis. From 2018 all new London taxis need to be capable of running on electric power, with all private hire vehicles compliant a couple of years later.

The rules only apply to new taxis, with existing ones able to run out their natural lives. But there is a generous fund to support taxi drivers who want to upgrade from diesel to electric sooner rather than later. The city will also be playing its part by expanding the number of charging points, promising 300 of them by 2020.

In advance of these new rules, the makers of London’s black cabs have designed an electric version, with a new factory opening a couple of weeks ago. The London Taxi Company (owned by a Chinese car company in traditional British fashion), will sell its first hybrid electric taxis later this year. It has competition from Metrocab, which launched a zero emissions taxi last year. Hopefully both of these will outlast the Hummingbird, and London will finally get the electric taxi revolution it deserves, second time around.

— source

Nitrogen oxide from diesel vehicles killed a lot of people in 2015

When Volkswagen’s diesel scandal broke in 2015, much was made of how the cars spewed the pollutant nitrogen oxide (NOx) in dramatic excess of regulators’ standards during real-world driving. But that wasn’t what ultimately got VW Group in trouble with officials from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and European Union regulators. The key problem was that diesel VWs, Audis, and even Porsches included undisclosed “defeat devices,” or lines of code in the car’s software, that regulators didn’t know about. This code permitted the diesel cars to run cleaner in a lab than on the road.

A new study published in Nature has now calculated the effect of lax practices in regulation and come up with a body count—38,000 people around the world prematurely died in 2015 as a result of excess particulate matter (including NOx) and ozone emissions from diesel vehicles.

— source

Traffic pollution reaches the Himalayas

India’s notorious traffic pollution is no longer an urban malaise, its impact is now being felt 4,000 metres above sea level, in the Himalayas. Geologists have found high levels of sulphur from diesel emissions along the Manali-Leh highway that snakes through the northwestern Himalayas. Soil samples from four sites along the 480 km highway were tested for 10 heavy metals and sulphur among other chemicals. While the good news is that heavy metal contamination was found to be low, the soil had significantly high levels of sulphur (490–2033 ppm), which the scientists attribute to diesel exhaust from heavy traffic on this mountainous road. Indian diesel contains some of the highest concentrations of sulphur in the world and an estimated 70% of automobiles running on Indian roads use diesel,

— source

U.S. Sues Fiat Chrysler over Software Allowing Ram Trucks to Skirt Emissions Rules

in the United States, the Justice Department has sued Fiat Chrysler, accusing it of using illegal software to bypass emissions regulations. The EPA accused Fiat Chrysler of installing the software on more than 100,000 Ram pickup trucks, allowing the car to bypass emissions control systems and spew significantly higher levels of pollution. Another car company, Volkswagen, has admitted to using software to rig some 11 million vehicles worldwide, allowing them to emit up to 40 times more pollution than standards allow.

— source

Birds sing shorter songs in response to traffic noise

Birds sing differently in response to traffic noise, which potentially affects their ability to attract mates and defend their territory, according to research published in Bioacoustics. The study found that a species of North American flycatcher sings shorter songs at a lower range of frequencies in response to traffic noise levels. The researchers suggest traffic noise reduction, for example through road closures, is a viable option for mitigating this effect.

— source

Italy court blocks Uber services in Italy

A court blocked the use of smart phone apps for Uber cars UBER.UL in Italy on Friday, ruling that they constituted unfair competition. The court said Uber could not use its Black, Lux, Suv, X , XL, Select and Van phone applications nor could it promote or advertise its services in Italy, a court document showed. The court ruled in favour of a suit filed by Italy’s major traditional taxi associations.

— source

Carbon Footprint of car


The calculator uses a factor of 14.3 kg CO2 per gallon.
Carbon dioxide arises from
• the burning of fuel
• fossil fuel energy used in oil extraction
• energy used in oil refining
• construction of cars and their maintenance
• construction of roads and their maintenance


• CO2 from fuel use: the CO2 emission from petrol and diesel is around 2.4 kg per litre [18], i.e. 10.9 kg per gallon (since 1 gallon is 4.546 litres).

• energy used in oil extraction: The CO2 generated per person in oil extraction together with gas extraction is 0.28 tonnes [from source 7, chart A]. Since oil and gas use is similar in the UK (in energy terms), we can allocated half (0.14 tonnes) to each of oil and gas.

• energy used in oil refining: This is 0.43 tonnes per person per year .

• construction of cars and their maintenance:
From a financial point of view, fuel costs are just a small part of car ownership – the RAC [20] gives the cost per mile for a car up to 1500cc to be 37.3p, but only 25% of this is fuel. The other costs are not as energy-intensive as fuel, but manufacture and maintenance clearly involve fossil fuel use.

According to source [7] (Chart D), 26.0 million tonnes CO2 per year (7.10 million tonnes Carbon) arises from fossil fuel use in “Motor vehicle production”. This is equivalent to 0.43 tonnes CO2 per person, and this is the estimate used here to derive the factor used. (A second estimate is that 0.099 kg/km CO2 arises from UK car maintenance and manufacture, quoted in source [22]. This is equivalent to 0.158 kg/mile, or a total of 38 million tonnes CO2 for the 27 million cars in the UK travelling an average of 9000 miles per year, i.e. a considerably higher estimate.)

• construction of roads and their maintenance
An uncertain amount.

Derivation of factor used

(Figures are per person per year in the UK where not otherwise specified).

Using the following data:
• oil use in the UK (excluding non-energy use) is 78.1 million tonnes [36], i.e. 1.29 tonnes per person
• the energy content in crude oil is 11.63 MWh / tonne [25], and
• CO2 emissions from petrol, diesel and aviation fuel are around 0.245 tonnes / MWh [18],
calculation gives the CO2 emissions from using oil as energy to be 3.67 tonnes per person. Almost all of this is used in internal combustion engines.

Adding the 0.14 tonnes CO2 from oil extraction and the 0.43 tonnes lost in oil refining gives a total energy wasted in oil exploration and refining is 0.57 tonnes, which means that only 3.10 tonnes of the total 3.67 tonnes is actually used in internal combustion engines (an efficiency of 85%).

Allowing for the 0.43 tonnes CO2 arising from fossil fuel used in motor vehicle production, gives a total of 4.10 tonnes per person used in transport, of which only 3.10 tonnes is actually used in internal combustion engines.

CO2 emission rates therefore need to be scaled up by an addition of 32%.

Emissions of 10.9 kg per gallon should therfore be scaled up to 14.3 kg CO2 per gallon.

Vehicle emission data is available for new car registrations, but this is measured under ideal conditions and it is necessary to add an amount to allow for ‘real world’ effects on fuel consumption (driving style, passengers, luggage, poor maintenance, weather, under-inflated tyres, use of air-conditioning etc). These have been estimated to increase fuel consumption by an average of 15% [Defra, 14].

Taking weighted averages of DEFRA car emissions factors [19] which allow for these ‘real world’ effects gives

Size Engine size (litres) mpg gCO2 per mile*
small car < 1.5 37 390
medium car 1.5 – 2.0 33 430
large car > 2.0 24 600

* calculated from mpg and CO2 emissions of 14.3 kg per gallon


The RACs vehicle running costs tables for new cars [20] gives estimations on the miles per gallon for different engine sizes.

• the number of private cars in the UK is 27 million, i.e. just under 1.1 cars per household [10]
• the proportion of households without a car is 26% [10]
• 59% of road transport emissions is from cars (12% from light vans, 28% from trucks and buses) [23]
• 88% of car CO2 emissions is commuting and other private mileage [Defra, 14], rather than business.
• average car mileage is 9000 per year [10]

— source