NYC Taxi Owners Sue to Stop Hybrid Cabs

hybridtaxi.jpg The Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade has filed a suit to block a measure to go into effect on October 1st that would mandate all new taxis to have a fuel efficiency of at least 25 miles per gallon. According to the press release put out by the group, the suit is based on the findings of a report by C. Bruce Gambardella, who previously consulted for the City of New York and several automakers. The report “exposes the risks and dangers of riding in New York City’s hybrid yellow taxicabs.”
Hybrid taxis in New York have been consistently making news for the past few years, notably with the announcement last year by the mayor’s office that all of the city’s taxis would be hybrids by 2012. Not to mention the mini-fleet of Ford Escape hybrids that entered operation in 2005, donated by Yahoo!.
GreenBiz reports that hybrids currently make up 11% of New York’s taxi fleet. Yet, both in terms of policy as well as safety, the taxicab board argues that the city is making a tragic mistake with the new mandate.

The report says that hybrids are not made to withstand the 24/7 rough wear-and-tear of taxicabs as the “purpose-built” Crown Victorias are. It concludes that hybrids are not designed to hold partitions, which are mandated by the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) to prevent drivers from being assaulted, robbed, or killed. According to Gambardella’s research, partitions could compromise the vehicles’ safety systems by preventing side airbags from being deployed, can be easily dislodged in accidents, and severely diminish passenger legroom.
According to GreenBiz, the suit also contends that the new mandate is “pre-empting the federal government’s authority to set fuel efficiency and vehicle emissions standards.”
A recent Treehugger article asserted that the issue is as much of a concern with vehicle safety as it is with switching business practices, especially as the article’s author has personally never been in a hybrid taxi that had a partition. As previous arguments against implementing hybrid taxis were around the high up-front costs of the vehicles, there appears to be some credence in this. GreenBiz cites that around 3,000 yellow cabs are replaced every year, and some argue that the taxicab board does not have the means (or does not want) to take on the extra costs of replacing vehicles with hybrids every year.
Hybrids obviously offer a savings at some level, both an environmental as well as economic (according to the TLC, hybrid taxi’s are saving drivers $6,500 a year and they have better rates of passing inspection). With that said, there does seem to be sense to the report put out by Gambardella. Safety should be one of the highest concerns when it comes to taxi policy – for the driver, for the passenger, and for everyone else on the road. However, where do we strike the balance between safety and having vehicles that have next to nothing fuel efficiency? As the Treehugger article concludes, “We simply cannot afford from environmental grounds to continue to have a taxi fleet consisting of vehicles which get the pathetically poor gas mileage as the Crown Vic.”
(Photo: Dino Abatzidis)

Ashwin is an Associate Editor of Triple Pundit. He recently returned to the Bay Area after living in Argentina, where he wholeheartedly missed the Pacific Ocean. He is a freelance editor and media and marketing consultant.After a brief stint working in the wine world, when not staring blankly at a computer screen, you'll find him working on Anand Confections or at 826 Valencia, where he has been a long-time volunteer.