Cities Want High-Mileage Hybrid Taxis; Judge Says It's Illegal

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Ford Escape Hybrid Taxi

Ford Escape Hybrid Taxi

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If you've been to New York City lately, you may have noticed an increasing number of hybrid taxis on the roads: mostly Ford Escape Hybrid SUVs, but also Toyota Camry Hybrid and Nissan Altima Hybrid sedans, and a scattering of others too.

It's part of a long-term plan to green the fleet of 14,000 yellow cabs operating in the city, since they rack up far higher mileage than private cars--close to 100,000 miles a year when running two 12-hour shifts a day.

City can't mandate MPGs

But on Tuesday, the Federal Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that the city's method for encouraging greener taxis that emit less exhaust emissions and greenhouse gases is illegal.

The city's Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) first required that new taxis put into service since last October must achieve an EPA rating of at least 30 miles per gallon on the city cycle.

When that was struck down, it altered the rules to require fleet owners to raise their daily lease rates for hybrids, but lower them for the de facto taxi, the Ford Crown Victoria sedan--which gets only 12 to 14 miles per gallon in urban use.

New York City taxi cab

New York City taxi cab

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That rule too was struck down, with the court again deciding that it effectively mandated fuel efficiency and emissions standards, which only the Federal government can do.

NYC is not alone

That's the same argument behind the lengthy legal battle between California and the auto industry over the state's limits on greenhouse gas emissions. That fight ended last spring with an agreement brokered by the White House for new national EPA and NHTSA limits.

Five others cities too want to green their taxi fleets: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Boston, and Washington, D.C.  But a "Green Taxi Act" introduced into the Senate and House last year by a New York senator and representatives has gotten no traction.

And those cities face the same ruling that New York City has been hit with, so it's unclear how the cities will accomplish their goals.

2011 Ford Transit Taxi

2011 Ford Transit Taxi

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RIP Crown Vic

In New York's case, roughly 28 percent of the taxi fleet are now hybrids, clean diesels, or other green vehicles. And the Crown Victoria goes out of production at the end of the year, with Ford proposing a taxi version of its Transit Connect small commercial van in its place.

The Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, which represents taxi owners, hailed the ruling. It said in a statement that the decision offers an "opportunity to work with the TLC on achieving a taxi fleet that is safe, durable, affordable and fuel efficient."

You will forgive us our extreme skepticism. The Board of Trade has fought every single rule ever proposed by the TLC, resulting in decades of rattletrap cabs that would shame a Third-World capital.

San Francisco Ford Hybrid Escape Taxi by Flickr user Ian Fuller

San Francisco Ford Hybrid Escape Taxi by Flickr user Ian Fuller

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Rider comfort: Who cares?

It fought safety inspections, a five-year retirement rule, mandatory air-conditioning, automated meters, driver route logging, GPS tracking, customer information postings, and many other rules that have notably improved New York's taxi experience for actual riders.

The Board of Trade has not historically been concerned with the opinions or interests of riders, most of whom like the idea of riding in a more fuel-efficient and less-polluting cab. Lease drivers, of course, love the hybrids, since they cost less to refuel them at the end of the shift. That too is irrelevant to the owners' group.

In a previous lawsuit against the hybrid ruling, the group worried that hybrids cut passenger legroom up to 10 inches. It was the first time in recorded history that the taxi owners had professed concern over the comfort of paying customers, and it may be the last.

We suspect NYC's taxi fleet will continue to get greener. And we fully expect the Board of Trade to fight that process every single step of the way. Such, sadly, may be life in New York.

[The New York Times, Detroit News,]

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Comments (9)
  1. You've got a hybrid that starts out with a full charge, with a gasoline engine to provide power when the charge is depleted.
    These vehicles "rack up far higher mileage than private cars--close to 100,000 miles a year when running two 12-hour shifts a day."
    IF, and that's a big IF, you start the day fully charged and have an all-electric range of 40 miles, you are running on gasoline 260 miles out of 300.
    So these 'green' vehicles are running on gasoline virtually all of the time, unless they are only running one 12-hour shift per day, inefficient waste of the vehicles.
    Is the city installing charging posts at all taxi stands so these vehicles can get a small recharge while waiting for fares? Then, when a cab up the front of the line gets a fare, everybody on charger can unhook, move up 10 feet, and rehook to the next post.
    There wasn't ANY consideration of the logistics of operating a hybrid in the city at such a high level of usage.
    Typical politician feel-good mandates.

  2. Not so dumb. 100,000 miles per years would be 273 miles per day. If the vehicle was actually moving that whole time (very doubtful) it would be averaging about 11 miles per hour. Even NYC traffic is not that slow ALL 24 hours a day. I think the purpose of the hybrid's petro fueled engine is to keep up the charge.
    The users of all the hybrids so far are ot complaining. Reducing fuel consumption and emissions is a good thing. The real question is vehicle durability under those conditions.

  3. @Stanlely: These are regular hybrids, not plug-ins of any kind. This has nothing to do (at the moment) with the 2011 Chevrolet Volt, with its 40-mile all-electric range on a fully charged battery pack.
    Conventional hybrids like the Escape Hybrid are at their most efficient by far in urban stop-and-go traffic, like that in Manhattan, London, or Tokyo.
    So your comment seems a bit off-point. Unless I'm missing something?

  4. One win for the good guys. The change to a 'greener' (what the hell that means) way of life should be an economic decision, not the government forcing this BS down our throats. It should be the Taxi Cab companies that decide to switch to hybrids, not some government mandate. To say the government is bought by 'big-oil' would be no different then saying the government is bought by algore and his profiting-from-the-AGW-myth cronies, who try and force rulings like this one.
    If it is cheaper for companies to operate Crown Vics then hybrids, they should have every right to operate them.

  5. what ever happened to freedom of choice

  6. what is the matter with the government except greed. I guess they dont realize that going green is a good thing for everybody; oh wait except for the big oil companies; as long as oil companies have thier way nothing is going to change , because our government thinks the only way to go is the way of big oil. just plain stupid.

  7. Who cares if the cab consumes 1 gallon on 14 miles. Crown Vic is the best.
    Damn hybrids.

  8. Barry, what are you on? The issue at hand is quite simple. The NY taxi companies simply did not want to be forced into buying and maintaining more expensive hybrids, and the courts agreed. There is no other reasoning. It's not that "big oil" is entangled in the government, but the simple consumption of oil-based products is the life-blood of the USA. US citizens make the choice everyday to consume oil, and we make the choice to continue consuming more, or less, oil. The courts decision is a victory for freedom. Within a certain set of guidelines, obviously, consumers, including companies, should have every right to buy whatever vehicle makes the most sense ($ cents) to them.
    Even if there is 'big-oil' in the government, how is it even then slightest bit different, then foricing people/companies to buy 'carbon credits' from algore profiting-from-the-AGW-scam-companies, that are entangled in the government? I've never gotten a rebuttal on that one....

  9. I think its important that taxis go greener as a taxi driver myself i would be a fool not to look at a hybrid when i come to replace my existing cab. We have a duty to help the environment in our cities. But I really dont wont government dictating what and when If they want to help then offer a cash incentive or tax break to those of us that want to invest in hybrid vehicles.

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