Courtesy RenderingStuck in park: The Yellow Cab fleets in San Francisco and San Jose were supposed to receive 61 electric taxis as part of a program the SFMTA would oversee.

San Francisco electric taxi program faces setbacks

In 2010, San Francisco received $7 million to establish an electric vehicle taxi network that would put it on par with global cities like Tokyo and Amsterdam.

Yet two years later, the network still doesn’t exist and it won’t be ready until 2013, due to a series of planning delays.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which manages taxi operations in The City, was awarded a $7 million regional grant to oversee a fleet of 61 electric cars and four battery-swapping stations in The City and San Jose.

Better Place, a private company that specializes in electric vehicle infrastructure featuring easily replaceable batteries, was included in the grant as partner to install the network and find manufacturers for the cars. The 61 taxis would be added to the Yellow Cab fleets in San Francisco and San Jose.

Originally scheduled to be up and running this year, the electric vehicle network has been delayed by issues during its pre-operational planning phases, said Better Place spokesman John Proctor. Even though the grant funds were approved in 2010, Better Place did not establish its necessary private-public partnerships with San Francisco and San Jose until this May, Proctor said. Several planning elements of the network could not be worked on until the partnership agreements were finalized.

Also, establishing an electric vehicle network that cuts down significantly on greenhouse gases requires a meticulously detailed planning blueprint, Proctor said. Creating that blueprint in both cities has taken longer than expected.

As of now, not a penny of the $7 million awarded in the 2010 grant has yet been used for the project and no sites have been established for battery-swapping stations. But Proctor said the network, called the eTaxi Program, will be ready by next year.

Earlier this week, Better Place founder and CEO Shai Agassi resigned from his position. Proctor said that had no impact on the company’s vehicle network plans for the Bay Area.

Mark Gruberg, spokesman for United Taxicab Workers, a cab drivers organization, said the announcement of the electric vehicle network came with a big splash, but since then, no one has heard anything more about it.

“Frankly, a lot of people forgot about it,” Gruberg said.

Despite the delays, the SFMTA is confident that Better Place will get the system up and running, said spokesman Paul Rose.

“We will continue to work with Better Place and their new leadership as we go forward,” said Rose.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

Bay Area NewsLocalSan Francisco Municipal Transportation AgencyTransittransportationYellow Cab

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