Hong Kong is reviving a trial of electric taxis as part of moves to encourage the use of alternative fuel vehicles, environment minister Wong Kam-sing has revealed.
An earlier pilot scheme ended in failure, with cabbies complaining of a shortage of charging points and the long time it took to power up their vehicles, but Wong said the new trial would go ahead on Lantau Island and in Sai Kung.
While industry representatives expressed reservations about a second round of testing, the minister pointed to valuable lessons learned and promised charging stations would be available in suitable locations.
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“Ultimately, we must move forward after combining the experience from each trial run,” he said, adding authorities had been in touch with the industry all along. “I hope people look at this positively, as cities all around the world are going through the same thing – Hong Kong is not alone in this experience.”
Under a newly announced road map on the use of electric vehicles (EVs), the government is expected to reveal its timeline for adopting commercial EVs by 2025. For now, it will conduct trials involving public transport and goods vehicles.
The plan also calls for an end to the sale of private vehicles using fossil fuel by 2035.
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Wong said the Environment Bureau was in talks to start trials of electric taxis on Lantau Island and in Sai Kung, where they operate on a more localised basis and cover shorter distances.
“We will provide charging stations in suitable locations so that taxis can refuel while driving in their main networks. This is how we will run the programme more systematically in Hong Kong,” he said.
He did not elaborate on the number of taxis that would be involved in the trial.
The earlier pilot scheme started in 2013, with 45 electric cars from Chinese carmaker BYD converted into taxis, supported by a pilot green transport fund.
A total of HK$300 million was set aside to encourage greener energy use for commercial vehicles. However, due to long charging times, high production costs and limited service life, the trial scheme was eventually scrapped in 2015, with even BYD admitting the plan had been a failure.
Other trials of commercial electric vehicles, such as a two-year trial of six double-decker hybrid buses costing HK$5.5 million each, also ended after their energy efficiency performance fell short of expectations.
Wong Po-keung, a cabby and chairman of the Hong Kong Taxi Owner’s Association, remained sceptical about running electric taxis in the city.
“There are not enough charging stations, so for now we won’t consider it,” he said. “Even fast-charging car models available here will take up to 45 minutes before reaching 80 per cent capacity.”
He said he knew the government had identified two sites in Lantau and Sai Kung to install chargers, and that the trial would use vehicles from a Korean carmaker. However, he said the distances the cars could cover were too short, and their boots were too small for taxis.
The industry would be more open to the idea of electric taxis if the government provided enough charging stations and ensured ample maintenance facilities, he added.
Hong Kong has 18,163 taxis, with about 15,000 urban taxis, more than 2,000 in the New Territories and 75 operating on Lantau, according to the Transport Department.
In neighbouring Shenzhen, more than 99 per cent of more than 21,000 taxis have been fully electric since 2019.
Locky Law, director of education at ChargedHK, a non-profit group promoting the use of electric vehicles, said Lantau and Sai Kung were good choices for the upcoming trial.
But, like cabby Wong, he was concerned about the speed of charging and whether Hong Kong had adequate servicing facilities to maintain the cars.
“It’s not as simple as just picking the right location for the trial,” he said. “Lantau Island probably has large areas to provide many charging stations, but what about in the city?”
Before electric vehicles have a chance of taking off, the government would have to come up with a package of policies to cover every aspect of the issue, he said.
Law suggested building multistorey facilities in city areas for electric taxis to charge their vehicles, but said the charging times and cost of the vehicles remained significant challenges.
“The fastest charging model, a Tesla Model 3, can charge in 10 minutes, but for taxi drivers, even that could be too long,” he said. “And is it affordable? This model can go up to HK$400,000. The taxi companies will want subsidies.”
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