I’ve written before that buying a hybrid car may not always be the most climate-friendly choice; sometimes, buying a cheaper (but still efficient) car can be greener, provided that you’re willing to use the savings to do something else for the climate (see, e.g., Green Tags to ramp up solar, wind, or other renewable electricity generation in the Northwest).

Of course, my earlierposts on the subject were written before the recent run-up in gas prices. As gas prices have risen, hybrids have become an substantially better buy than they once were. Still, it depends on how much you drive: the more miles you log in your car, the better deal a hybrid is. For people who put on 40,000 miles per year on their car, driving a hybrid can save 10 times as much on gas as for people who drive 4,000 miles.

So I’m heartened (though far from shocked) to see that cab companies are starting to give hybrids a closer look. Cabbies drive a lot. That’s their job, after all. And higher gas prices mean that they’re starting to run up enormous fuel bills. So switching to hybrids offers an immediate benefit to a cabbie’s bottom line.

The current work horse of the cab fleet, the Ford Crown Victoria, is rated at 17 miles per gallon in city driving. The hybrid Escape (apparently, the favorite hybrid for taxi fleets because of its interior room) is rated at 36 in the city. Even if those numbers don’t hold up in real-world driving, the Escape is going to use about half as much gas as the Crown Vic. And a hybrid Prius (not as roomy as most cabs, but I’m sure it gets the job done) would save even more.

  • The especially nice thing is that cabbies can serve as a proof of concept for the longevity of hybrids.

    Some potential hybrid buyers—cab fleets included—are worried about how long the hybrid batteries will last. Replacing a hybrid’s batteries can be pretty costly, so the sooner they fail, the more expensive it is to own a hybrid over the long run. But from an admittedly small sample of hybrid taxis in service in Canada, it seems that even the early models could run for more than 332,000 km (200,000 miles) with no battery problems. In fact, the hybrid taxis experienced no wear-and-tear problems with the hybrid parts themselves—the only parts that wore out were the ones common to all cars.

    Based on the experience of the early taxi adopters, then, the batteries seem pretty reliable. Which should give some comfort not just to cabbies, but to anyone who’s already bought, or is considering switching to, a hybrid.