Politics in New York City are a tough, bruising game.
Pit a billionaire Mayor with a desire to make the city work better and cut carbon emissions against the entrenched interests of taxi owners, and you get an ongoing battle.
The latest skirmish is a concession by the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission over the sticky issue of whether future cabs should be hybrids.
It complies with a May court ruling that required taxi operators to be given the option of continuing to use hybrids--as required by its own law.
The administrative decision came in response to a lawsuit by taxi owners slamming the Taxi of Tomorrow because it's not offered as a hybrid.
The TLC will let taxi owners continue to use their growing fleets of hybrid taxis until Nissan adds a hybrid option to the extended-wheelbase Taxi of Tomorrow version of its NV200 small commercial van.
Love for hybrids ironic
The taxi owners' eager embrace of hybrids is ironic to New York City taxi passengers who recall owners fighting tooth and nail against the city's attempt to license hybrid taxis and boost the then-dismal average gas mileage of the cab fleet several years ago.
The taxi industry took the city administration to court over its gas-mileage rules for taxis, and won.
Back in July 2010, a court struck down NYC's ability to mandate minimum gas-mileage levels for medallion cabs, saying only the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency can regulate fuel efficiency.
But last year, the Ford Crown Victoria full-size sedan--beloved of taxi owners for its simple mechanical layout, supposed durabilty, and unchanging design--finally went out of production.
Regular hybrids cheaper
Now taxi owners want to use production hybrids, rather than the purpose-built Taxi of Tomorrow, because they're cheaper to buy.
Not as cheap as the Crown Vic was, sadly for them--but that was then and this is now.
It's not about gas mileage, though. Taxi owners simply don't care.
They have no incentive to use cars that get better gas mileage, because they don't pay for the gasoline--the fleet drivers who lease the cabs do.
Ford Escape Hybrid New York Taxi. Image by Flickr user Jason TabariasEnlarge Photo
Every fleet driver has to fuel his own cab. Those drivers love the hybrids, which can return 25 to 30 mpg in hard city use--against the 10 to 12 mpg achieved in Crown Vics.
The taxi owners are battling to keep hybrids because they're cheaper to buy than the custom-built Taxi of Tomorrow.
In any event, NYC taxis that are production hybrid models will continue to ply their trade on the city's streets for several years.
Hybrids only a stepping-stone
Will Nissan announce a hybrid powertrain for its Taxi of Tomorrow, which will start deliveries with a 2.0-liter gasoline engine? Almost surely.
But hybrid taxis aren't where the big win comes.
2013 Nissan Leaf electric car tested as taxi in New York City, April 2013Enlarge Photo
That would be the electric version of the taxi, recharged perhaps once daily via DC quick charging.
Those won't show up in New York City for several years, but the powertrain is already being tested in a small fleet of Nissan Leaf taxis to be tested in the city this year.
In other words, tomorrow's Taxi of Tomorrow might well be all-electric (perhaps by 2018 or so).
Which would make hybrids look positively old-fashioned.
Meanwhile, long-suffering NYC taxi passengers look forward to the arrival of cabs that offer legroom, at least some outward visibility, and things like power points for their devices when the first Taxis of Tomorrow hit the roads in October.