In Oxford, UK Solocar’s founder George Raithby says that 60% of trips made in his usual taxi vehicles into Oxford were for a single passenger with little or no luggage. And as such, a brainwave hit him and Solocar (as at December 2009) operates 4 Smart Passion Coupes. These Smarts have stop/start functions to optimize fuel consumption and also cut down emissions. And as the cars are small, cheap to maintain and economical (up to 15% less fuel) to run, the fares Solocar charges for a ride in a Smart taxi is around 20% lower than what a normal taxi would charge for a trip in and around Oxford. The service must be encouraging as Mr Raithby said that he plans to expand Solocar’s fleet of Smarts to 20 cars by 2011.He add that with “these cars, our passengers are finding that, for once, the environmentally compatible option isn’t more expensive.”
Portreath Cabs in Cornwall, UK had also added a Smart ForTwo cdi to its fleet to run alongside another Smart as a hire car or taxi. Conrad Hibell launched the company in early 2009, and quickly identified the opportunity for more affordable and greener transport for people traveling alone.
"It struck me that it didn't make commercial sense to send a seven-seater out to collect or pick up single fares," said Conrad. "smarts are considered to be among the greenest cars on the road so running a dedicated, one-seater service with them is not only eco-friendly but enables us to offer cheaper tariffs to customers because of their size."
There was an issue with both Solocar and Portreath Cabs. With an engine capacity of less than 1,500cc and featuring two doors instead of four, the smart did not conform to the usual private hire vehicle criteria required by the Town and County Council. As with Portreath’s case, Mr Hibell had to present his case and the car itself at a meeting of the Council's Miscellaneous Licensing Committee where it was decided that "Mr Hibell outlined how the Smart was ideal for carrying one person - for example on a trip to the supermarket and showed how their shopping bags could easily fit in the boot," said Bob Mears, Licensing Manager for West Cornwall. "One or two of the members took the opportunity to sit in the car and after considering the facts, including the vehicle's ecological credentials, the committee was happy to pass the licence application”
The same thing also happened quite recently in Germany. The new hire car company SmaTax GmbH was able to persuade legislators there to review the regulation where a hire car in Germany must have at least 2 doors on the passenger side. They managed to get the waiver on the reason that 70% of all taxi trips were made by individuals without any luggage. The waiver requested by SmaTax is valid throughout Germany and has paved the way for more Smart FowTwo operators there.
There could be a niche market for local taxi operators here. A Smart is certainly more comfortable than, for example, a Tuk-Tuk that is being used in Thailand. Being air-conditioned it has the necessary comfort for a single passenger to be ferried in relative comfort, at a cheaper fare than usual due to its operating costs. This concept may just work over here in the humid climate of South East Asia.