San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors recently approved an ordinance that will require taxi cab companies to operate fleets with greenhouse gas emissions at least 20 percent lower than 1990 levels. To help cab companies pay for it, the Board of Supervisors increased the daily fee (tax) that drivers pay by $12.50. Check out the San Francisco Chronicle article.
While this particular legislation is interesting, I think that the more compelling angle is that this story serves as a microcosm for the broader global debate on tradeoffs between economic growth/opportunity and the need for decisive action on global warming.
As may be expected, the cabbies are not pleased with the increased fees. "The bill is a reverse Robin Hood straight from the George Bush playbooks," said Bud Hazelkorn, a driver and member of the United Taxi Workers. "The Board of Supervisors pretend to fight global warming by granting a raise to the cab companies – and forcing the drivers to pay for it. Gas prices are headed for $4 and more per gallon."
The Board of Supervisors, however, says drivers will be better off. “If you drive a Crown Victoria, which gets 10 mpg, and figure gas at $3.48 a gallon, it costs $40 a shift,” said Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier. “But a Ford Escape Hybrid gets 25.6 mpg and would cost $15 a shift. Even with the $12.50 increase, that’s a gain of almost $13 a shift.”
So let’s think about the implications of the economics above if all San Francisco taxis switch to hybrids. If the average cabbie works 220 days/year they would net $2860 more driving a hybrid than a Crown Victoria while substantially reducing carbon emissions. The switching costs would be borne not by the cabbies, but by the cab companies themselves, and making investments in fleet renewal is a normal, budgeted part of their businesses. So everyone wins — and this is why cities like New York and Boston are adopting similar legislation.
How many other industries are there where economic growth/opportunity and environmental sustainability go hand in hand? A lot. And this is the call of our generation, to accelerate the adoption of new technologies to simultaneously increase individual and corporate economic opportunity while reversing the negative effects of our carbon-based industries and economy. While the San Francisco cabbie example may be a simplistic one, it nonetheless serves as an example of what is possible. Leaders in all industries should consider potential the parallels and not fear making the initial investments required for long term cost reduction, revenue gain and environmental sustainability.