Let’s keep the taxi rides of Eugene going. Next up: a Buick Century. Would you pick this to be your cab?
Coming from the viewpoint of a former taxi fleet operator, my choice hands-down would be a Prius V. Nothing has a lower dollar per kilometer cost and the V body style leaves lots of room for luggage. The Prius drive train is bulletproof and the cars have very little downtime. Vancouver’s streets are full of them and not many taxi operators choose a car for bling, not if they want to stay in business for long.
For a place like Eugene, the above illustrated Century would probably be pretty good: low initial outlay and reasonably cheap repairs. There would be no problem finding someone to wrench on it, either. The downside is the interiors of these cars get ratty really fast; mouse fur sucks up dirt and spilled coffee.
As for being a passenger, all I have ever really cared about a cab is 1) do I have enough room to be comfortable and 2) is the car clean. Again speaking from experience, taxi customers don’t care much about luxury cars. They want fast, efficient service in a clean car with a driver who doesn’t look like he sleeps in the homeless shelter.
Prius taxis? The outlay for initial purchase must be killer.
I’ve worked for three taxi companies, from 1981 to 1986: Yellow Cab Houston, which did buy their fleets new and run them for three years; a subsidiary of Yellow Cab Cleveland – YCC did buy new cars, but not this suburban subsidiary. They bought Ford Granadas and Fairmonts from Budget.
Finally, a backwards suburban outfit in a large Cleveland suburb. He bought old NYC police cars, Volares and M-Bodies – buy them for under a thousand bucks at auction and make them into cabs. Run them till they died, usually two to three years.
NEVER…had I ever seen anyone consider something as upmarket, price-wise, as a Prius. Granted, operating costs would be lower; but it ties up a lot of operating capital in purchase.
In metro DC “Priuses? Priuii?” are very popular taxies along with hybrid Camries, but most are “Panthers” that seem to be held together with chewing gum and plastic twisty ties.
Well, there is one thing you can be sure of: they wouldn’t be doing it if it didn’t pay.
The price of a litre of regular gas here is $1.34, or $5.25 a gallon. That makes it pay, especially in Vancouver’s constant bumper to bumper traffic.
Lemme play Devil’s Advocate here: Is there really any difference, from the fleet-operator perspective, between a Prius and one of the more-conventional hybrids? A hybrid Civic, say? Or hybrid Camry?
The Prius was a success when the Honda offerings were less so, at least partly because of the appearance differentiation – the styling. The Prius stood out but was a practical car where the Insight was not. The Civic hybrid did not stand out, and thus hasn’t sold as well.
I’d think one of the lesser-selling models would be cheaper to obtain in a fleet purchase.
You’d really have to give Yellow Cab Vancouver a call. The have 200 cars and all are company owned. The law here says no car can be more than six years old and they replace 1/3 of their fleet ever year. The Prius V is the one they buy because of airport business, due to the luggage capacity.
Okay, that answers it.
The Prius is gonna hold its value.
For whatever reason…I’m not sold on hybrids, but facts are facts, and no question but that whatever Toyota does is durable.
With some past exceptions, of course…
Anyway…if they HAVE to sell on CALENDAR AGE…they have to factor in the resale value. And there’s a hunger for affordable hybrids…apparently even used-taxi hybrids.
The Camry hybrid carries a substantial price premium around here anyway and of course the MPG is much less so a double whammy to the bottom line.
You are correct that the Civic Hybrid didn’t sell worth a damn until they made it look like a Prius. It still doesn’t sell in anywhere near the numbers of the Prius but it is more common, at least around here.
I believe that is the main reason that Ford chose to make the C-Max a hybrid only vehicle, dropped the hybrid Escape and so far have not dropped the hybrid power train in the Transit Connect.
I was told by an operator for YC in Vancouver as well that the prius has two other distinct advantages for taxis besides fuel enonomy. These are all in comparison to the Toyota Corolla — which apparently the only other real choice taxi co. have here if they want reduced initial capital outlay.
1. Massively reduced number of brake jobs compared to the Corolla because of the Priuse’s regenerative braking.
2. Alternators on Corolla go out about twice a year, but never on the Prius
3. Transmission on the corolla will have to be replaced at least once in its lifetime, possibly twice.
They are all sold at 6 years, as mentioned above, with an average of 650,000kms. He never said what they get for them. I’m guessing little.
Apparently despite initial costs, these things do provide a much bigger payback than a comparable car.
Alternators don’t go out on Prius because they don’t have one, they have a DC to DC converter and a pair of Motor/Generators.
Well, the Camry Hybrids don’t have very good luggage capacity due to the location of the battery. Priuses, because they were designed from the ground up as hybrids, tend to have better space utilization and decent cargo capacity, especially the V.
The three hybrid cabs that are hugely popular (aside from the Prius) in New York are the Altima, Camry and Escape. When I first started seeing these a few years back, I figured “oh they must be buying these things because of some BS ‘green’ subsidy” – because who wants to deal with the added purchase price or complex/expensive repairs when they break? I never really looked into it any further, maybe there is some kinda government incentive to use hybrid cabs, but when I looked at the city fuel economy figures, the difference was startling…
2009 Altima 2.5/auto: 23mpg city
2009 Altima Hybrid: 35mpg city
2009 Toyota Camry 2.4/auto: 21mpg city
2009 Toyota Camry Hybrid: 33mpg city
2009 Escape 2.5/auto (2WD): 20mpg city
2009 Escape Hybrid (2WD): 34mpg city
That adds up quick in cars that are being used nearly 24 hours a day! I picked 2009 because most of them seem to be that vintage. The new “hot cab” is the Ford Transit Connect. I don’t believe that has a hybrid version (yet?) but I also imagine those are being bought as a replacement for the Toyota Siennas that were the hot ticket 5-10 years ago (via “Cash Cab”/Ben Bailey), while the Camry/Altima are the Panther replacement.
Like I said, I’m not sold on the hybrid – not the principle nor its complicated, Smokey-Stover execution. But in city traffic, that is where these things absolutely shine – far more so than on the open road, where the difference (depending on the model) can be almost negligible.
IF the bugs are worked out of the design – and it seems they are – and IF the fare structure enables the cab company to recoup the high purchase price – than a hybrid cab is probably the design’s best application. Short hops, stop-and-go; air resistance less and braking and acceleration losses maximum.
Well, taxis tend to be used in cities, and hence are most efficient in that environment.
The reliability ratings I have seen for the Prius are the best in the business. However, there are many people who refuse to believe such data as it doesn’t fit with their bias toward a particular brand.
Having bought cars for a fleet of 15 taxi cabs, I care about this: dollars per km, passenger comfort and utility, in that order. Don’t care about the brand at all.
Yellow around here is mostly Prius that appear to have been purchased new. I dropped my wife off at the airport yesterday and it was about 1/3 Prius, 1/3 “yellow” Panthers, and 1/3 “black” Panthers.
The pricing laws in this county actually make about the same cost to take a Town Car vs a Taxi and if there are more than 2 people traveling cheaper than a Shuttle service.
“Downtown Hotel district” to airport flat $40 for taxis + $.50 for more than 2 passengers, Town Cars $40-$45 depending on the time of the day, shuttle service $18 per person. Hence the great numbers of Town Cars seen at the airport and on the roads to and from the airport.
When I was in CA around Disneyland a couple of weeks ago it was aprox Prius 1/3, Panthers 1/3 and Chrysler Minivans 1/3 of the “yellow” fleet with a handful of Freestars here and there.
While I can see the advantages of a Prius cab, especially in heavy stop and go traffic, as a regular visitor to Vancouver I don’t much care to ride in them. Riding in the cramped malodorous interior while lurching through traffic always seems to make me a bit queasy.
If I have any choice in the matter I like to take the Skytrain downtown from the airport, and then stay right downtown where I can walk everywhere I need to go.
When I was a kid, my mom didn’t drive. (Still doesn’t.) When we had the occasional doctor appt., Mom always called cabs. (That’s what she always called ’em, never taxis.) We had two major operators in my hometown in the 70s and 80s, Yellow and Courtesy. She liked Courtesy. Yellow was the bigger operation, and always had a fleet of matching cars, usually full-sized Chevys. Courtesy was the underdog and drove a motley crew of aging sedans. The cool thing about calling Courtesy was anticipating what kind of car they were going to send. I liked getting the early 70s full- and mid-sized sedans; I got to ride in a host of Chevys, Pontiacs, and Buicks that I otherwise would have had no access to otherwise. Later, though, Courtesy increasingly sent Aspens and Volares, and I just didn’t enjoy those much as cabs.
This Century is just the kind of thing Courtesy would buy. I wonder if they’re still in business.
When my family bought into the taxi business, we set about buying all the shares in a cooperative taxi company, which is how many such companies operated. Our company was on the other side of the tracks so to speak and you cannot image the motley collection of beaters the operation had. In the early 1980’s, their favourite car was a six cylinder Nova with Powerglide. They would even replace the THM with the Powerglide.
Nobody ever maintained a car. They drove them until they had to be towed, or limped, to the garage. One taxi owner did brake jobs in the parking lot of the bar they all drank at. I remember waiting to take the car out for a shift, and old Gordy came and and said to me, “Well, I replaced one brake shoe since the other three looked not too bad.” This car was a 1974 Caprice Wagon with a 454 in it. The floor was so rusty that the front seat wasn’t bolted to the floor anymore and rocked back and forth when you accelerated and then stopped.
Any time a car broke down, these guys, reprobates to a one, would yell and scream at the driver for “breaking my car.” The fact it had like 500,000 miles on it and hadn’t ever seen regular service didn’t matter.
Needless to say, all we had to do is wait for them to all go belly up one by one. An example: one guy had the engine go on his 1973 Ford LTD. I think it was a 429. He and his buddy decided to swap the engine outside his tenement. They rented an engine hoist for like $80 a day and then proceeded to get get piss-drunk for six weeks, while paying dispatch fees the whole time. This pushed him over the edge and we got a taxi licence for like half of what is was worth.
We started by buying all Chevy B bodies but over time, we had a fleet of very nice Olds 88 Royale Broughams. They made good cabs and there were lots available used in old man city Victoria.
I’d certainly choose one over a Previa but of course I’d take a Panther any day of the week. Though when I stopped in Eugene to gas up on a trip back from CA recently and seeing that they get to charge $1 ea per extra, I can see why they like minivans. Being a college town, it could quickly increase their profits being able to carry a couple more drunk, or on their way to get drunk, college kids to or from the bar/party. But then again that only really works if you want to work the weekend night shifts.
Weekend night shifts are indeed where the money is at but it is a young man’s game. When I was doing it at age 19 I really didn’t know what I was getting into.
In British Columbia taxis are regulated to a maximum of five passengers and no extra fees are legal.
A Panther makes a good cab if…..and this is a huge if….it is operated in an area without much stop and go traffic. Otherwise fuel costs will kill you.
The sign on the Oregon Taxi Previa I was next to showed that they get to charge $1 for every extra passenger. In King Co/Seattle it’s .$.50 for extras over 2. No regulations limiting extras around here other than the obvious need for seat belts for each passenger.
Around here Yellow has gone to mostly Prius but the Co-ops and others are still Panther heavy except for some of those in the SITIA fleet. However a fair number of the Crown Vics around here are CNG powered so they give the Prius a run for the money on fuel costs and their lower purchase price combined with superior longevity more than wipes out the extra fuel cost.
I would beg to differ that the Panther has superior longevity. The real advantage it would have is superior repairability. I have seen Prius’s with over 1,000,000,000 km on them.
A litre of fuel sells for $1.34 in Vancouver today. This is why the Prius is now 90% of all the cabs here.
Did you put an extra set of 000 in there because my conversion shows that as 621,371,192 miles. Assuming that it was 10 years old and it was driven every single day that works out to 275,000KM or 170,000 miles per day. I’ll buy 275km or 170 miles per day.
Personally I’ve worked on several Panthers that were in taxi service with 500,000 + mi range and they were still on the original engine and trans. With 1,000,000 km I’m betting they had to have replaced the battery pack at least once and if they didn’t buy it right, ie went to Toyota, that can easily exceed the price of a brand new engine and installation for a Panther. Go to the right aftermarket supplier and you can get it down to the price of a reman engine for a Panther, less installation.
Opps, did add some extra zeros.
Again, coming from a taxi background, I know that if it didn’t pay, they wouldn’t be doing it. A Crown Vic may pay in the USA, but here it doesn’t. Hence, they have disappeared from taxi use. I saw the last one three or four years ago.
I imagine that era Century to make a fine cab. Parts grow on trees and repairs are relatively easy. I’ve seen plenty of examples of well cared for high mileage Buicks like this one. Obviously, well cared for is the key.
A Century would seem awfully cramped in back. I would hope for at least a LeSabre.
A Prius with 1 BILLION miles? Wow!
That’s a billion kilometers. Six-tenths of a mile.
I made a typo. I meant a million km. Very common here.
That’s 620,000 miles.
We used to get about 400,000 – 500,000 miles with our Granada cabs – 250 sixes and Cruise-O-Matics.
Of course…you could tell they’d had a long road…
One reason for the high mileage is that they wouldn’t often be left to cool down. They were run ’round the clock…only garaged and left to cool on holidays or very slow times. No cold starts…much longer life.
These might make pretty good cabs. The cab company in Hannibal, MO, has several green and white Century’s like this one. The combination of green fenders, hood, and trunk lid combined with white doors and roof and a big picture of Mark Twain on the doors is a bit harsh. But I suppose taxi’s are meant to be seen and not attractive.
The only thing I really remember about this era of Buick Century is that for the ’00 model year they were all badged “Buick Century 2000”, and this was listed as a “feature” in the promotional materials. There is some weird absurdity to a “2000 Buick Century 2000” that both disgusts and amuses me.
Good cab? Who knows. Probably not that good if it has the 3100 V6 (which Wikipedia says all of these Buicks had), as I believe they were still eating intake manifold gaskets during these years. As a passenger, I like getting the occasional out-of-the-ordinary ones. Anything like this is rare where I live – the Panthers still rule most bedroom community suburbs, which Eugene appears similar to in layout. Out in the more rural areas and resort towns, cars like this are common and Panthers are the exception.
A Buick Century taxi? Yes I would hail it, because as a taxi passengers, I don’t have to drive it, right? Perfect time to be in a Buick.
Im a little late to the party. Ive been catching up on your taxis of Eugene posts. Ill admit, I stumbled here while searching for posts about my company. Eugene Hybrid Taxi. Its an all Prius fleet. We have been in business about 4 years. Wave as you take our picture!
If its me, I will wave back. Yes the owner of the company is also one of the drivers.
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *
Notify me of follow-up comments by email.
Notify me of new posts by email.
This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.
Copyright 2011 - 2021 Curbside Classics. All Rights Reserved.