Monday, 28 May 2012 10:03 AM
Getting a taxi tends to be a bit of an indulgence for most of us - it's either the result of a night out that finished long after the last train or bus or it's a more civilised way to get the airport than dragging baggage about on public transport or having to pay silly money to park the car in a long-term car park.
And it's not usually a particularly ecologically friendly way to travel either. Figures from the mayor of London's office estimate that black cabs are responsible for up to 20% of the air pollution in the capital. It's another reason, apart from the cost, as to why most of us in London tend to use public transport rather than getting taxis everywhere we go.
But when one does need a taxi - and it's not a 3am-stumble-out-of-the-pub-via-a-kebab-shop situation - it's certainly nice to know that if you're forking out the cash for a cab, you're going about it in a clean manner. With this is mind, I was offered the opportunity to go to work and back in a Climatecar. An electric Renault Fluence, to be precise.
On Tuesdays, I usually travel from Morden to Vauxhall by bus and then Tube and it takes around 45 minutes, give or take, depending on when the bus arrives. It's a pretty cheap and fairly eco-friendly way to travel. But a ride in a zero-emissions electric car would be even greener, although obviously not cheaper.
I arranged to be picked up at 8:45am and at precisely 8:45am, I got a text to say my car was waiting for me out the front. Sure enough, there it was. I grabbed my jacket and jumped in. Sam, my chauffeur for the day, got out and let me in, insisting I sit behind the passenger seat for more legroom. At 5' 1", legroom isn't a massive issue for me but it was nice to stretch out rather than cramming on a Northern Line train like a sardine.
On the journey to Vauxhall, Sam told me that because he takes pre-booked passengers only, it's easy for him to plan his day and ensure he doesn't run out of battery charge. He has a central London location where he can top up the charge and take a break. The top-up charge takes around 90 minutes. Getting the most mileage out of every charge is important and Sam said he always drives smoothly so as not to waste the juice. He did indeed drive smoothly - there was no stamping on the accelerator like a flamenco dancer and it was one of the more relaxing trips through London's rush hour.
As a bonus, the taxi was clean, there was a copy of The Times and wallpaper* magazine and bottled water on offer. The leather seats were comfortable, Sam was friendly, polite and interesting to chat to and when the Fluence pulled up in Vauxhall, it was exactly 9.30am on the car clock. Forty-five minutes precisely, same as doing the trip by public transport and minus any time spent with my nose wedged in someone's damp armpit, getting showered with face powder as a fellow commuter decides to use the train as an extension of the bathroom or despairing for the world when someone goes out of their way to beat an elderly person to the last seat in the carriage.
At the end of the day, Sam texted me right on the stroke of 6pm, the pre-arranged pick-up time and it was an equally smooth trip home through the wilds of south-west London.
Fares for Climatecars taxis - they have Toyota Priuses as well as the Fluence - are calculated based on mileage rather than time. This way, you only pay for the distance travelled, rather than paying to be stuck in gridlocked traffic or to sit at red lights. The price is fixed beforehand so there's no hideous meter surprise at the end of the trip and you can get a quote before making a booking. A trip from Central London to Heathrow would be in the region of £50 and Climatecars aim to be cheaper than black cabs for short city trips around the 2-3 mile mark.
While I certainly haven't got the funds to get driven to and from work every day in a Climatecar, I'd certainly use their services again to get to the airport, especially before a long-haul flight to my native Australia. If I have to spend 24 hours of my life in a cramped metal cigar breathing stale air and eating rubbish food, I'd much rather get there in leather-lined, eco-friendly comfort than messing about with buses and trains. Indeed, given the Heathrow Express exceeds £30, even for a cheap fare, it'd make good economic sense for my husband and I to jump in a Climatecar to Heathrow instead.
There's not much I can do about the carbon footprint of using air travel but it is nice to know that you can travel by taxi without pumping CO2 into the atmosphere.
By Georgia Lewis
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