The taxi, the icon of the bustling city, is getting a makeover. Cities nationwide are encouraging taxi fleets to turn over a new leaf and reduce their petroleum consumption. As taxis average more than 55,000 miles a year, reducing one taxi's gasoline consumption can make a big difference. Fortunately, there are a number of ways fleets can improve their sustainability, including adopting hybrid, natural gas, or propane vehicles.

Although many people associate the Ford Crown Victoria with taxis, an increasing number of taxi operators are driving hybrid Toyota Priuses, Toyota Camrys, and Ford Escapes. While the Crown Vic only averages a mere 16 miles per gallon (mpg) in city driving, a Prius averages 51 mpg, an Escape 34 mpg, and a Camry 33 mpg.

John Moore, the founder of the CleanAir CABS in Boston, estimated that if the 1,900 vehicle Boston fleet switched to hybrids, they could annually save about 5 million gallons of gasoline. By reducing the amount of petroleum used, these vehicles also decrease the smog-forming and greenhouse gas emissions they produce. To encourage taxicab owners and drivers to switch, programs such as those in Boston, Cambridge, and San Antonio offer incentives to hybrid fleets that range from front-of-the-line privileges at airports to permits for additional taxis.

Another option is to switch to an entirely different fuel. The Honda Civic CNG runs on compressed natural gas (CNG), a fuel that is cleaner and has a lower carbon footprint than gasoline. In Washington, more than 160 taxis at the are fueled by CNG. The airport estimates that this fleet produces 149 fewer tons of carbon monoxide (CO) and 24 fewer tons of nitrous oxides (NOx) annually than comparable vehicles running on gasoline. This is equivalent to removing 800 passenger vehicles from the road for a year! In cities with air quality issues, such as New York City and Los Angeles, CNG taxis can go a long way towards reducing pollution.

Similarly, propane taxis produce fewer emissions than gasoline and use a domestically produced fuel. Although there are no light-duty vehicles available that run on propane, taxi fleets can work with specialty companies to convert vehicles to run on this alternative fuel. In July, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack visited conversion company Baker Equipment in Richmond, Virginia. He was there to celebrate the jobs that have been created through the Southeast Propane Autogas Development Program, which was supported by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. With funding from the Autogas Development Program, Baker Equipment will help several cab and livery companies switch their vehicles to propane.

Fleets adopting these technologies and fuels contribute to our country's energy independence, improve their local air quality, and decrease their carbon footprint. If you're interested in working with your city to develop a "clean cabs" program, contact your local Clean Cities coordinator. If alternative fuel or hybrid cabs are already running in your area, show them your support the next time you need a ride!

Shannon Brescher Shea is the communications manager for Clean Cities in the Vehicle Technologies Program of EERE.