DEARBORN — California’s first compressed natural gas-powered Ford Transit Connect taxicabs hit the streets of Southern California Thursday, giving taxi owners, drivers and passengers a chance to help the environment one small trip at a time.
California Yellow Cab of Orange County put its first 10 Transit Connect Taxis into service, marking the milestone with an event celebrating the increased presence of CNG use in California. Clean Energy, which owns and operates CNG filling stations, also participated in the event.
The first 10 Transit Connect Taxis are part of an order for 50 units that California Yellow Cab plans to put into service by 2012. In addition, Yellow Cab of Anaheim also ordered 69 units, bringing the total number of CNG Transit Connect Taxis that will soon be serving Southern California to more than 100.
Tim Conlon, president and general manager of California Yellow Cab, said there is a lot of excitement over the new taxis.
“Our goal is to convert our entire fleet to alternative fuels, so bringing the CNG Transit Connect Taxis into service is an exciting step in that direction,” said Conlon. “The drivers are excited too. They have been lining up to be among the first to get behind the wheel of a CNG-powered taxi.”
Conlon isn’t alone in being excited about the taxi option as many others in California are considering adding the versatile vehicle to their fleets, said Gerry Koss, marketing manager, Ford Fleet.
“The Transit Connect Taxi is well-suited for California taxi service for many reasons including its exceptional maneuverability and improved fuel economy,” said Koss. “As more and more taxi industry representatives see how well the Transit Connect Taxi performs, we expect the level of interest in the vehicle to increase accordingly.”
CNG-powered Transit Connect Taxis are becoming more popular in other parts of the country as well, serving places such as Las Vegas and St. Louis. Chicago is another city where CNG-powered Transit Connect Taxis are in service already. Taxi Medallion Management put 12 of the vehicles into service in June.
Dallas-based BAF Technologies has been certified by Ford as a Quality Vehicle Modifier to convert standard Transit Connect Taxis into CNG-powered cabs.
The standard Ford Transit Connect — 2010 North American Truck of the Year — features a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that gets 22 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway, an estimated 30 percent improvement in fuel economy compared with traditional taxis.
The estimated fuel economy of a CNG-powered Transit Connect Taxi is the same as the standard gasoline version. However, operating costs are lower because the cost of a gasoline gallon equivalent of CNG is roughly half the cost of a gallon of regular gasoline. In addition to CNG, Transit Connect Taxi is available with an engine preparation package for conversion to liquefied propane gas.
“Taxicab operators will save up to $2 per gallon over gasoline at the pump,” said Mitchell Pratt, COO of, Clean Energy. “Because the vehicles’ tailpipe emissions are near zero, Ford’s CNG Transit Connects qualify to drive in California’s carpool lanes and, compared to petroleum versions, will reduce greenhouse gases by almost 30 percent.”
Earlier this year in the Golden State, the California Air Resources Board approved the use of CNG-powered Transit Connect Taxis modified by BAF Technologies, which is owned by Clean Energy.
CARB is a government agency designed to promote and protect public health, welfare and ecological resources through reduction of air pollutants.
In addition to the CARB approval, Conlon said another factor that is pro-CNG is the increase in infrastructure supporting CNG-fueled vehicles. He said that since 2001 the number of CNG filling stations in Orange County has tripled to about 30.
“We have a situation here in Orange County where the per gallon equivalent of CNG is almost $2 less than the price of a gallon of traditional fuel,” Conlon said. “Given that, along with the increased infrastructure support, it’s not hard to see why it makes sense for us to go with the (CNG-powered) Transit Connect Taxi.”
The powertrain isn’t the only reason orders are expected to continue coming in for the Transit Connect Taxi. Roominess, for example, is a big factor for many, said Craig Cannons, commercial business manager, Ford Commercial Truck Sales and Marketing.
“Passengers can get in and out of the vehicle so much easier than they can with other taxi vehicles out there,” said Cannons. “In fact, the spaciousness of the Transit Connect Taxi is a huge factor — if not the deciding factor — for many considering adding it to their fleet.”
The open architecture of the Transit Connect Taxi provides excellent interior headroom and passenger visibility, and — with 6.5 inches of ground clearance — passengers step easily through the sliding doors. The rear door opening is 50.2 inches wide at the floor and has a height of 52.1 inches.
The Transit Connect Taxi is certified to Ford Light Commercial Vehicle Durability Standards while suspension components and the underbody structure have passed requirements for potholes and curbs. The 39-foot turning diameter makes it easier to handle tight spots.
The Ford dealership, South Bay Ford in Los Angeles, is delivering the first Transit Connect Taxis in California to California Yellow Cab.