Chicago Taxi Company Tests Natural Gas-Powered Ford Transits

In March, a fleet of natural gas-powered Transit Connect taxis will begin appearing on the streets of Chicago.

Taxi Affiliation Services of Chicago is purchasing a fleet of 12 conventional, gasoline-powered Transit Connect utility vehicles for use by its Yellow Cab Chicago division. Grant money from the U.S. Department of Energy Clean Cities’ $15 million fund will be used to convert the vehicles to run on compressed natural gas (CNG) and to install two natural gas refueling stations at Yellow Cab facilities. The CNG refueling stations will reportedly be available for use by the general public.

The purchase is part of Taxi Affiliation Services’ goal of reducing fleet-wide tailpipe emissions by 25 percent according to the company’s CEO, Michael Levine. Compressed natural gas-powered vehicles emit about 30 percent less greenhouse gases than their gasoline-powered counterparts.

In a statement, Levine said, “We are adding vehicles with more fuel-efficient gasoline engines, as well as vehicles with alternative-fuel sources, to find a vehicle mix that best suits our customers, our drivers, the city at large and the environment.”

Eventually, Yellow Cab Chicago hopes to have 100 CNG vehicles in its fleet. In addition to the converted Transit Connects, the company is also testing a small fleet of Scion xBs.

“We are adding vehicles with more fuel-efficient gasoline engines, as well as vehicles with alternative-fuel sources, to find a vehicle mix that best suits our customers, our drivers, the city at large and the environment,” Levine said. “We are excited about testing this new vehicle.”

Ford’s Crown Victoria has been a popular model for taxi fleets, and Levin said, “We are excited about testing this new vehicle. We’ve always trusted their products before.” Ford plans to discontinue the Crown Victoria later this year.

In addition to reducing tailpipe emissions, the new CNG-powered Transit Connects will help fleet operators reduce their fuel costs. The Crown Victoria has an EPA estimated fuel efficiency rating of 16 mpg city/24 mpg highway.

Last year, the Transit Connect was named the 2010 North American Truck of the Year at the annual North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

The Transit Connect taxi package features an adjustable second-row seat which provides passengers with more leg room. The models are also equipped with grab handles and a rear ventilation system that can be operated by passengers. Other driver-focused features include s rearview camera and backup sensor. Ford also offers an optional engine preparation package for fleet operators who prefer to power their Transit Connects with liquefied propane gas.

Fuel economy has been an issue with the body-on-frame Crown Victoria. That car is rated at 16 mpg city/24 highway. The base Transit Connect is equipped with a 2.0-liter inline-four gasoline engine rated at 21 city/26 highway.

Levine said his company is considering new signage for their CNG-powered vehicles to appeal to environmentally-conscious riders. “The object,” he said, “would be to get more fares.”

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