Robotic Battery-Switching Electric Taxi Program Coming to Bay Area

Better Place battery swap station

Electric car infrastructure company Better Place is bringing its battery swap stations to California’s Bay Area in a $6.9 million, three-year project that will see San Francisco and San Jose receive four battery swap stations and 61 electric taxi cabs, all operated by local companies Yellow Cab and Yellow Checker Cab.

Better Place has been running a a pilot EV taxi program in Tokyo since April. During the first 90 days of the trial, the three electric taxis traveled over 25,000 miles using Better Place’s battery switch station–a car wash-like machine that switches out old EV batteries for fresh ones in the time it would take to fill a tank of gas.

Now Better Place is bringing an expanded version of the program to the Bay Area, courtesy of a Department of Transportation grant. The program was selected for a grant, explains Better Place spokesperson Julie Mullins, because of the company’s ability “to really move the needle and make significant impact on emission reduction by showing the viability of electric taxis.”

Regular charging stations that take hours to juice up EVs might work for casual drivers, but Better Place believes that switching stations make more sense for cabs. “Battery
switch is really the only option for taxis, because it requires very
little down time, versus standard or quick charge which require the
taxis to be out of service for much longer periods of time,” Mullins says. And since one of the stations will be at San Francisco International Airport, tourists will get the chance to see Better Place’s slick robotic switch-out system in action.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.