How a Vancouver Taxi Driver Became the World’s First Hybrid Cabbie

Andrew Grant’s 2004 Toyota Prius worked the Vancouver streets until 2011, driving just over 1.5 million kilometres.

In a city where hybrid car shares and taxis are now common sights, it seems odd that less than 20 years ago, Vancouverites were wary of stepping into a hybrid cab.“They figured it was unsafe,” explained Andrew Grant, the Vancouver-based commercial hybrid vehicle consultant who brought the first hybrid cab to the city, in an interview in 2014.In 2000, then-taxi driver Grant swapped his ride for a 2001 Toyota Prius. In itself, buying a brand new car to use as a taxi is far from the norm—most taxi drivers buy three to five-year-old used cars due to the heavy use they see in service. But Grant had done his math.Having operated a cab for 20 years and being a bit of a spreadsheets whiz, Grant knew exactly what it cost per hour to run his cab. When Toyota released the specs for their first-generation Prius, Grant pulled out his calculator.The sticker price was a bit higher than non-hybrid models, but not by all that much. And taking into account the lowered fuel and maintenance costs, Grant realized he could pay off the new car in just three years. So he bought one.Photo: Andrew GrantOn Nov. 1, 2000, Grant started using his new ride in service. Fuel savings were immediate and high impact — hybrids use almost 50 percent less fuel than non-hybrid alternatives, and as the cost of gas rose, so did the value returned to Grant.As the Prius covered more ground, Grant also found his prediction of lowered maintenance costs rang true as well. While his old cab had needed to be serviced every two weeks, Grant found that the Prius only needed to go in every three weeks.“Between 2000 and 2004, the Prius proved that it was not only cost effective in fuel, but the big saving came in the way of savings in repairs and downtimes,” says Grant. For example, because the Prius uses the electric engine for braking and recharging the battery, there is less wear and tear on braking systems.Toyota’s engineers quickly became interested in Grant’s car. For those working on the next generation Prius 2004 model, Grant’s taxi held invaluable information about wear and tear.They struck a deal: Grant sent his 2001 model back to Japan for testing and had a brand new 2003 model delivered. He drove that Prius for the next 11 months before buying the all-new 2004 model to use as his new work vehicle. He retired the 2003 to his personal car, which he still drives.Despite Grant’s savings success, it wasn’t until the Prius changed its stripes that local taxi drivers began to look at it seriously. “When the 2004 Prius came out as a hatchback, that was when the taxi industry locally and globally began purchasing the vehicle as a taxi,” explains Grant. “Since then, owners of hybrid cars have been very happy with how the car has performed. It has become the “checkered cab” of the 21st century.”Over his years driving Prius taxis, Grant found the Prius’ strength in its longevity. While a typical taxi would need to have its brake pads replaced every six to eight months, Grant didn’t change the front pads on his Prius until just over 300,000 kilometres, and the rear one at just over a half-million.Grant’s 2004 Prius worked the Vancouver streets until 2011, driving just over 1.5 million kilometres. During that time, Grant estimates that the Prius saved him approximately $20 a shift. For this early adopter, his original bet on the Prius has more than proven his math.