The taxi fleet in Burbank is getting greener, and soon those greener pastures will make their way to Glendale.
The City Cab lot near Bob Hope Airport sports roughly 110 taxi cabs and minivans. Forty-six of those vehicles, or 42%, are now either gas-electric hybrids or Ford Crown Victorias that run on compressed natural gas.
Martin Shatakhyan, general manager of the City Cab fleet, said the company plans to have 75% of the fleet converted within four years.
"We have had Priuses in the fleet since 2004," Shatakhyan said. "This year we added 17 more CNG vehicles and hybrids."
Shatakhyan said the effort to convert the fleet is driven in part by local regulations pushing for clean-fuel vehicles.
Burbank does not mandate conversion of the taxi fleet, but the Burbank City Council and Traffic Commission have established a policy encouraging taxicab companies to be as green as possible, according to License and Code Services Administrator Terre Hirsch.
"The proposals that are being most favored include a substantial amount of green cabs," Hirsch said. "Currently, there are 130 taxis in the city, and approximately 50% of those are green."
The shift has other benefits, Shatakhyan said.
The 14 Priuses in the fleet average 45 miles a gallon. The CNG Crown Victorias get only 13 miles per gallon, but a gallon of compressed natural gas costs only about $2.50, significantly less than the gasoline alternative.
"This is resulting in a huge savings on a per-day basis," Shatakhyan said, adding that the money saved on fuel in a single year more than pays for the additional cost of buying a Prius or a converted Crown Victoria.
But one cabbie who declined to give his name complained that the compressed natural gas tanks take up too much trunk space and make the taxis less useful on airport runs.
"You will sacrifice some space for luggage, but nothing for passengers," Shatakhyan said, pointing to an open Crown Victoria trunk to show there was still room for at least three medium-sized pieces of luggage.
Meanwhile, passengers applaud the effort to reduce carbon emissions, Shatakhyan said.
"People are pleased to see these clean, shiny vehicles, and know they consume less gasoline," he said.
City Cab is just launching the conversion of its fleet in Glendale, where only one of its 44 cars licensed to pick up is a Prius, though Shatakhyan said the company is about to start swapping in CNG cars and hybrids for outdated gas-fueled cars.
Glendale Public Works Director Steve Zurn said the city currently has no clean-fuel rule for taxis, but is considering adding one.
The changes to the taxi industry are coming even as business is slow.
Shatakhyan said the taxi industry took a hit after Sept. 11, 2001, only to come back before the recession put another dent in business in 2008.
"The good news is that we are not rolling back anymore," he said.
Shatakhyan, who has 30 years of experience in the transportation business, said taxis are a bellwether of the overall economy. If people are going out to dine or traveling for business and holidays, cabbies are the first to know.
"If you really want to know in any country how the economy is doing, ask a taxi driver," he said.