Four taxi operators will be subsidised by the government to import five electric cabs for a two-year trial this year.
The Environmental Protection Department said it had approved a total of HK$11 million to be spent on five electric taxis and two electric buses. The money will come from the HK$300 million Green Transport Fund set up last year.
New Territories Taxi Operations Union chairman Chan Shu-sang said he and the other three operators had started negotiations with Italian car company Fiat, asking if it could improve the design of its taxi and give it a trial run in Hong Kong.
Chan said electric taxis in Italy could only travel 200 kilometres before recharging. He hoped this capacity could be increased to 280 kilometres so Hong Kong drivers would only need to charge their cabs once in a 10-hour shift. Charging takes about 45 minutes.
Chan will receive about HK$2 million to import two taxis, at an estimated cost of HK$1.28 million each - more than five times the HK$240,000 price tag for a traditional cab.
'With electric taxis, drivers can save about HK$200 on daily fuel costs,' Chan said. He said the government and the Hong Kong Airport Authority had pledged to build four charging facilities in Sha Tin, Yuen Long, Sheung Shui and at the airport at Chek Lap Kok.
But he said as the trial had to be confined to the New Territories it was difficult to persuade more operators to join in. 'They don't want to be guinea pigs,' he said.
With the requested design modification and Transport Department approval to ensure safety, Chan said the electric taxis could be operating in Hong Kong in about five months. The operators would have to submit a monthly report on the cars' performance in the two-year trial.
Chan said taxi prices could be significantly reduced if the trial were successful and the vehicles could be mass produced.
While the government approved a small-scale trial, a larger operator said the threshold set for the subsidised scheme was too high. Hong Kong Taxi and Public Light Bus Association chairman Brandon Tong Yeuk-fung, who is also interested in introducing electric taxis to the city, said he would forgo applying for the subsidy, but his plan to work on a trial with Shenzhen-based carmaker BYD would go ahead.
Under the plan to import 45 electric taxis, BYD would pay for the construction of 15 charging facilities and each taxi would cost only HK$400,000. 'We cannot provide detailed figures on the taxis' performance to the government. If we could, we would not need to conduct the one-year trial,' Tong said.
The taxis were being tested by the Transport Department and were expected to be on the city's roads by the end of August. Other car companies keen to share the electric taxi market include Nissan, Mitsubishi and Renault.