SPUR’s report Critical Cooling recommends 42 options for reducing local carbon emissions. This is one of them. To learn about all 42 ideas, read the full report

Create a Greenhouse Gas Standard for the Taxi Fleet

Urbanist Article
Annual savings potential:
Annual public cost:
Public cost per ton:
Implementing agency:
Horizon year:
14,000 tons
Revenue neutral
Municipal Transportation Agency


  • A typical San Francisco cab travels 90,000 miles per year, 70 percent in the city and 30 percent highway
  • Carbon savings represents an improvement from 1990 levels.


This policy may substantially reduce emissions from the city’s fleet of taxicabs. The ordinance requires drivers and cab companies to pay the up-front costs of upgrading vehicle fleets to achieve a fleetwide fuel efficiency equivalent of 29 mpg by 2012. However, the city expects that lower fuel costs, as well as state and federal incentives to purchase low emissions vehicles, will offset the costs. This option is very cost-effective for the public and likely quite cost-effective for the taxi companies.

What we do now
Currently, there are 1,381 taxi medallions issued in San Francisco – 1,306 regular permits and 75 ramped taxicab permits (i.e. wheelchair accessible).

What we could do
In 2008, San Francisco adopted Ordinance 2008-026, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2012. It requires taxicab companies to have fleets of vehicles that produce an average of 38 metric tons of emissions per year. This requirement will compel companies to retire old vehicles and deploy a significant number of new, low emissions vehicles.

The full cost to implement the ordinance will fall on taxicab companies and drivers. To help the companies, the ordinance raises the fee that drivers must pay cab companies by $12.50 per shift. The rationale is that cab drivers will benefit from lower fuel costs from low-mileage vehicles.

While drivers and taxicab companies must pay the up-front costs of new vehicles, lower mileage vehicles may make up initial up-front cost in long-run operating cost savings. There are also a number of federal and state incentives to purchase lower emissions vehicles.

Carbon savings potential
To calculate the standards for future vehicle fleet, the San Francisco Taxicab Commission noted that there were 811 taxicabs operating in San Francisco in 1990. It also calculated that the typical taxicab travels 90,000 miles per year, 70 percent in the city and 30 percent on the highway. It also assumed the typical cab was a 1988 or 1990 Ford Crown Victoria. These assumptions yield emissions of approximately 87.9 tons of CO2 per cab per year, or 71,287 tons per year for the entire fleet.

The targeted 20 percent reduction mandates total fleet emissions of 57,030, or 38.02 tons per cab for each of the 1,500 taxicabs expected to be in service in 2012. The commission estimates that this equates to an average of 29 miles per gallon. The standard is not a requirement for each vehicle, but for a fleetwide average for each company.1

This policy will require taxicab companies to phase out older vehicles, while adding a significant number of new lower emissions vehicles to their fleets. A Ford Crown Victoria is rated at 64.7 tons per year, or nearly twice the required average. A Toyota Prius is rated at 23.6, well below the required average.

1 San Francisco Taxicab Commission, Implementing Greenhouse Gas (GHG) reduction. http://www.sfgov.org/site/taxicommission_page.asp?id=78180