Green Cab test drives Somerville's first hybrid taxi

Kathleen Powers

Starting at 4 a.m. Tuesday morning, you can call Somerville taxi cab and get a hybrid to pick up at your door.

A brand-new hybrid Saturn sedan, painted in Green Cab colors, will be the first hybrid taxi on our streets. But it’s been a long road.

In May, Ward 7 Alderman Bob Trane, who is also the board president who has set an environmental agenda for his reign, sought two new taxi medallions for hybrid or alternative-fuel cabs. At the time, Green Cab was skeptical.

“We’ve been exploring it for five years,” said Cheryl Horan. At the time, there was concern as to how to dispose of the hybrid batteries, how long the hybrid cars would last, and what the cost would be.

The proposal was nixed in May by the Committee on Traffic and Parking, but a compromise was sought.

And the results will be on the road Tuesday.

“We’re definitely a willing partner with the city to go green,” Horan said. “Green goes green.”

Part of the problem has been cost. A used police car is $5,000. A new hybrid is $25,000 and the insurance is $4,000 more than for a regular cab.

Then there’s the issue of durability. A Crown Victoria lasts about 18 months being driven 24-hours a day and being maintained at Green Cab’s Assembly Square location. No one knows how long a hybrid taxi will last, but Karen Horan, who is monitoring the cars for Green Cab, hopes the hybrid will last 3 years.

“They need to be durable,” Cheryl Horan said.

Karen Horan noted Green Cab has put four new vehicles out on the streets in the past two weeks, and they’ll monitor costs and maintenance for each of the vehicles – seeing how the hybrid stands up. The hybrid is new and under warrantee, but everything from the doors to the struts will be taking as much abuse as the more sturdily-made police cars.

“Everything, struts-to-brakes, is not as strong as a Crown Vic,” Cheryl Horan said.

The aldermen are aware this is a test to see how it works.

“You don’t want to economically crush companies,” Ward 5 alderman Sean O’Donovan said. “You want to support them.”

Cheryl Horan said the Saturn is one of the bigger hybrids, but trunk space is smaller – which may be problematic for those carrying luggage. It was tough on a test drive fitting three large people in the back seat, but it would be easy enough for two people who required legroom.

The car is marked “hybrid” in Green Cab green, but Trane wanted a bigger symbol on the side of the car. “Maybe a sun? Or a rainbow?”