A London black cab driver’s delight with his new electric mount

“I had a job last Saturday night from South Kensington to Heathrow Airport. This family – mum, dad and two daughters – came out with three huge suitcase and four or five smaller ones going off to Australia for Christmas and the New Year. They thought they would have to order another cab because they wouldn’t be able to fit in all the luggage but I said ‘No you will.’ To their disbelieve we did, I put some of the luggage in the font beside me and some in the passenger compartment. They were absolutely thrilled, when we got to the airport the guy gave me a £20 tip, he was delighted that he didn’t have to order another taxi” says John Dowd, a London taxi driver.

John has been driving taxis commonly referred to as ‘black cabs’ – although these days they often come in other colours – around the British capital for eleven and a half years. Now 50, like the vast majority of drivers John was born in London but in his case spent much of his youth in Ireland. Becoming a London taxi driver entails memorising 25,000 or so streets in a 6 mile (9.7km) radius from Charing Cross along with all the points on these streets a passenger might want to stop at in one of the world’s most difficult exams usually referred to as “The Knowledge.” John took delivery of his new electric LEVC TX taxi in June 2019, having driven a TX for a year under the LEVC test programme. Previously a proud TX4 owner he raves about his new mount.

It wasn’t, however, love at first sight. John’s TX4 was only bought in 2016 “It was a fantastic cab. Going into the test programme I was convinced that nothing would ever persuade me to replace that cab” explains John. A Euro VI diesel it was top of the range in the colour he wanted with all the extras. Intending to keep it for a long time John fastidiously cared for it and ran it only on premium super diesel. Under the test programme selected drivers used the TX as their everyday vehicle and gave as much feedback to LEVC as they could about what they liked, disliked and how it could be improved. Shortly after John started driving the TX he realised what an amazing vehicles it is and decided to sell his much loved TX4.

One of the problems drivers encountered early on in the test programme was that passengers would often hit the curb when opening the doors as the TX had lower doors than the TX4. LEVC fixed this problem by designing new rising hinges which lift the doors up when they’re opened, something now fitted as standard to all new TXs off the production line. The TX is a completely new taxi designed to meet the latest environmental standards of Transport for London along with the demands of today’s 24/7 connected passengers. As a range extended electric taxi, the TX allows drivers to operate in zero or ultra-low emission zones while maintaining the same range and convenience of traditional fuel vehicles. Drivers can top up their battery to 80% in as quick as 30 minutes during their shift or utilize the small efficient 1.5L engine as a generator for the battery.

“Even now two years after they were introduced passengers are still raving about them when they get in. They just love them, they’re bigger – there is more space in the back, with the panoramic roof they appear to be more airy. We can carry an extra passenger – 6 people as opposed to 5 in the TX4. They’re quieter obviously, plus they’re quicker and smoother. They look amazing, we’ve been told they look like a Bentley! It’s not fair to a TX4 to compare this cab to a TX4 because it’s not better, it’s better by a million times” says John. Passengers benefit from two USB charging ports along with a socket for a British three point plug allowing charging of laptops and other electrical devices.

Driver comfort is also not forgotten. The driver’s seat has electrical adjustment and there is far more space for the driver. At 6ft 1in John used to have his left knee continuously pressed against the dashboard in the TX4. “It’s a different world. When you come out of the cab after an eight hour shift you don’t feel tired and exhausted” says John. The TX is much quicker with no lag in power and as John puts it clunking through the gears. Efficiency is also up. Drivers used to have to wait till 33mph (53kmh) to shift into fourth gear to get better mileage, with power now coming from electricity this is no longer a factor. John’s old diesel TX4 would get fuel economy in the low 20s (~13l/100km) dependent on traffic. In the TX he gets around 50 miles (80km) electric range in winter and in the 60s or 70s during summertime. With the petrol engine acting as an hyper-efficient generator he gets 40-45mpg (6.3-7.0l/100km), while keeping emissions ultra-low.

John lives around eight miles (12.9km) out from where he starts his shift and averages 100-120 miles (161-193km) per shift with up to 200 miles (322km) on a busy shift. Unlike some drivers he doesn’t charge his black cab during his shift, which starts usually at 4 in the afternoon. Instead John wait until he returns home at around 2 in the morning and hooks the cab up to his pole charger which take about four hours to charge.

Although the taxi’s greater size helps with both driver and passenger comfort it does have drawbacks with driving. “Every day driving we have to take it a bit slower whizzing through gaps in the traffic” says John. On certain roads with narrow width it means drivers need to take them far slower than in a TX4. “Manoeuvrability isn’t quite as good. Going north on the Albert Bridge there is a width restriction – it is very very narrow you’ve only got a small amount of clearance either side of the tyres with the curb. With a TX4 you wouldn’t even slow down you would fly straight through it. I think though it is a small compensation to make as the vast majority of the time we are not faced with these obstructions” explains John. And one great thing is that when drivers do need to slow down thanks to the regenerative braking they need only lift their foot from the accelerator and the car recycles the energy adding to the electric charge.

Not only has the TX made being a cab driver an easier, more comfortable job for John it has also saved him money. The £80 extra monthly repayments on the finance over his old TX4 are more than made up for by fuel savings of at least £100 per week. Overall the change to the TX has been a no brainer for John.