Old dogs and new tricks

by stephen clover on July 30, 2009

Wellington’s "ol’ faithful" taxi-cab company Combined (or Wellington Combined Taxis to give them their full title) have gone through a bit of a transformation in the last 12 months or so.

With the arrival on the scene of new "green" player Green Cabs (about whom we have written — and been witness to some controversyin the past), I guess they were faced with the choice of adapting, or get added to the bottom of the endangered species list.

Happily (for them, us, consumer choice AND the planet that we share) they chose the former.

Read on after the jump to find out what they have been up to..

Early last year, Wellington Combined Taxis made a strong commitment to address the environmental impact of their business.  Firstly, they ruled that from mid-2008 no more petrol-only vehicles will be permitted join their taxi fleet (around 450 cars). In addition, they have undertaken to ensure that by the beginning of 2014, their entire fleet will consist of vehicles which are more fuel-efficient than regular petrol-fueled models. 

Just 18 months in, they already have over a third of their fleet conforming to their new standard, with nearly 50 hybrids, and five i30 diesels with similar fuel-efficiency profiles to the hybrids. They also run a decent number of bigger vehicles like the Sonata diesel cabs, which are still very efficient compared to petrol vehicles but provide a decent amount of leg-room in the back — something that will come as music to the ear of many passengers.

Combined have been encouraged by the feedback from the public which has deservedly been very positive, but the process hasn’t been without one or two setbacks. In March 2008 they were the subject of a "greenwashing" investigation by the Commerce Commission over claims that they were publishing false and misleading information on their website — specifically about LPG taxis reducing carbon dioxide pollution, and the fuel efficiency of Nissan Maxima engines. Penalties for breaching the Fair Trading Act include fines of up to $200,000 for a company.

Several months later Combined were issued with a warning by the Commission and advised to change their compliance procedures to ensure future representations are accurate. Combined themselves reckon they fell victim to the (unfortunately not uncommon) trap of relying on the accuracy of information supplied by vendors, but regard the whole thing as a useful learning experience for the company. Taking the Commission’s advice they have tightened up their business processes to prevent a recurrance. 

There’s been another positive outcome, too. It took them two years of hard work, a lot of education and no small amount of dedication but with the support of Landcare Research — Combined attained carboNZero CertTM certification, the first New Zealand taxi service to do so. (Are they the only? It’s hard to locate another.) They meet the requirements of the carboNZero CertTM certification having measured and committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, and then mitigating remaining unavoidable emissions in respect of their organisation — including the vehicle fleet, office administration, and staff air travel. They’re also the only taxi service in the Wellington region (not to mention the entire country) listed on Greenlist, the Sustainable Business Network‘s directory of sustainable products and services. (Huh? No Green Cabs?)

Old dogs are proverbially known for their inability to learn new tricks, but "ol’ faithful" Wellington Combined Taxis appear to have done just that. Their fleet is constantly changing and upgrading to newer, more fuel-efficient vehicles, and they closely follow developments in vehicle and fuel-efficiency technology looking for more efficient models they can allow into their fleet. They’ve decided to do something for the environment, and they’re in it for the long haul. (Is it also the commercially-savvy decision? Possibly. Either way, I reckon it’s the right one.) Good on them! Shake hands? Good dog.

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