The woes of Beijing's electric taxi drivers

Poor battery life and long recharge times severely hurt business, drivers insist

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 January, 2014, 7:44pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 January, 2014, 7:48pm

Electric taxi drivers in Beijing suffer from battery problems, with overly long charging sessions cutting into time that could be spent driving passengers.

Waiting in queues at charging stations is now the norm for many drivers, and charging a vehicle can take up to six hours, reported Chinese financial news portal Caixin.

According to additional reports by Beijing Today, most vehicles need to charge at least twice daily in order to maintain a “satisfying income level.”

“At this point in time, there are around 200 electric taxis on the streets of the Tongzhou district [in Beijing],” said a driver surnamed Cheng who was interviewed by Caixin. “But in truth, only about 100 are on the road at any given time, while the other 100 are in a queue waiting to be charged.”

While there are express stations that can charge the vehicles within one and a half hours, doing so cuts battery life in half, and simply queuing up at an express station is a process that can take nearly three hours.

Furthermore, while freshly charged electric taxis can travel about 150 kilometres, many drivers noted that in the colder autumn and winter months, using the car’s heater would seriously affect power consumption and require a recharge after ever 60 to 80 kilometres.

In order to combat battery depletion, some drivers have chosen to restrict their routes in order to ensure that a charging station is always within reach. Others have begun rejecting passengers if the requested destination is too far away.

“Nowadays, [China] is really pushing electric cars,” another driver surnamed Zhang told Caixin. “Passengers like them too. If only the battery life of these cars could reach 300 kilometres or so [on a single charge], then all of our problems wouldn’t be problems anymore.”

According to current statistics, there are around 1,150 electric taxis roaming the districts of Beijing, with a total of 539 charging stations located throughout the city. Generally, charging stations can service two vehicles at a time.

The local Beijing government has aggressively sponsored privately owned electric taxis as a possible means of curbing air pollution, and the vehicles are eligible for a subsidy of about 3,000 yuan (HK$ 3,850) a month.