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Columbus, Ohio, Tries to Jump-Start the Local EV Market

Taxi operators who opt to trade in their gas-powered vehicles for cleaner electric models could receive cash rebates under a new Smart Columbus program.

Taxi companies in Columbus, Ohio, may want to start thinking about trading in at least a few old gas-guzzlers for a shiny, new, quiet, electric sedan.

Smart Columbus, the arm of the city charged with growing innovative approaches to transportation, is making up to $120,000 in rebate money available to taxi operators who switch out old gas-powered cars for electric vehicles.

The first phase of the project will start by offering 10 rebates of up to $3,000 per car, with the idea of ramping up the program to 40 vehicles, said Jennifer Fening, a spokeswoman for Smart Columbus. The rebates are competitive, with applicants demonstrating “they will maximize EV miles driven, trips taken and number of passengers per trip,” according to a city press release.

Columbus’ largest cab provider is Yellow Cab, which operates about 200 cars.

“The rebates could technically go to one provider, but our goal is to spread the resources around,” said Fening.

The rebate program is not unlike the EV Champions Initiative, a pilot by Uber that works with electric utilities and other organizations to offer cash payments to electric vehicle drivers. The program will be offered to drivers in seven cities: Austin, Texas; Los Angeles; Montreal; Sacramento, Calif.; San Diego; San Francisco; and Seattle.

For example, Uber is partnering with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District to give drivers with electric vehicles an extra $1.50 per ride. The program is intended to grow familiarity and acceptance of EVs among both drivers and the riding public.

Columbus is getting ready to open its new Experience Center on June 30, 2018. The facility in downtown is set to highlight various “smart mobility” projects in the area, as well as showcase EVs and allow the public to experience them via test-rides.  

The project to encourage the use of electric cabs will not only reduce CO2 emissions, said Michael Stevens, chief innovation officer of Columbus, but will introduce the next generation cars to many riders who may have never even sat in an electric car.

“It will also generate thousands of positive experiences when our residents hail and ride in an electric taxi — potentially experiencing an electric vehicle for the first time,” Stevens said in a statement. “We see the program not only as a way to deploy more sustainable vehicles quickly, but also as a long-term educational effort that show our residents how quiet, fun and safe electric vehicles can be.”

Columbus’ smart city efforts are being powered by a $40 million U.S. Department of Transportation Smart City Challenge grant, awarded in 2016, to create a smart transportation system in which vehicles and roads communicate to make travel easier and safer. Vulcan Inc., a philanthropic organization founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, also provided $10 million toward the goal of reducing greenhouse emissions.

Applications for the rebates are available on the Smart Columbus website and are due by June 29, 2018.

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.