You may have read earlier this week about London’s plans to launch hydrogen fuel cell powered black cabs in the capital by 2012.

On the face of it, the project sounds brilliant: cleaner air, lower running costs and no compromise on interior space or exterior design.

But the project faces two major hurdles: creating the infrastructure and convincing the cabbies to go for it. As London’s deputy mayor Kit Malthouse described it, both hydrogen and electric cars are at a ‘which comes first, the chicken or the egg’ stage.

The first problem is beginning to be tackled. Two hydrogen-recharging points will be installed by City Hall this year with a further four to follow in 2011.

These are to support the five hydrogen buses that will run on London’s streets from later this year, but taxi drivers will also gain access to them should they opt in for the hydrogen taxi trials.

But winning the taxi drivers over will be far more difficult.

“We need to get a fleet of owner drivers involved,” said Maganese Bronze’s John Russell, the firm that makes black cabs.

“For this to have a smooth entry to market, we need to make this not a financial burden to owners.”

Boris Johnson’s promise that all of the capital’s taxis must be tailpipe emissions free by 2020 should eventually force the hand of both City Hall (to create a larger, usable network) and the taxi drivers (to buy or convert their taxis so they are still be able to run a business).

If the network is there for the taxi drivers to use, then there is less risk for drivers to invest in a hydrogen taxi. After all, their taxi is their livelihood.

I saw the taxi and must admit to being impressed. Asides from the stickers, there are no visual differences and, crucially, no compromises on interior space.

I’m still not fully sold on electric cars until the limits on range and charging times can be overcome. The hydrogen taxi has a 250-mile range and can be recharged in five minutes; that sounds much more sensible to me.

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