Latest Hazard in NYC: Hybrid Taxis

New York City—Residents and visitors alike marvel that this city’s fleet of 13,200 yellow cabs has gotten far more diverse. The sea of Ford Crown Victorias is now sprinkled with hybrids, most of them Ford Escape Hybrid SUVs. Also visible are occasional Toyota Priuses, Nissan Altima Hybrids, Toyota Highland Hybrids, and at least one bright yellow Lexus LS400h.

But now a new report says that the hybrids are “unfit and unsafe” for their duties, endangering 240 million passengers and tens of thousands of drivers. And the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade (MTBoT), a taxi-fleet trade association that commissioned the 43-page report, has sued the city over the issue. Their goal is to halt a mandate, scheduled to take effect October 1, requiring all new cabs to obtain a city mileage rating of at least 25 miles per gallon (rising to 30 mpg a year from now). The mandate become law in May 2007, at the behest of Mayor Michael Bloomberg—following limited sales of hybrid-only taxi medallions in the three prior years.

The MTBoT complains that no current hybrid is designed to accept the bulletproof partitions between driver and passengers that are required for all cabs. The partitions, says the report, interfere with side-curtain airbags; force drivers too close to the steering-wheel airbag; may dislodge in accidents; and cut passenger legroom as much as 10 inches.

The lawsuit charges NYC’s Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) with failing to follow its own procedures requiring safety testing and a pilot program. For good measure, it also argues that the city’s mandate is pre-empted by the federal Energy Policy and Conservation Act, and the federal Clean Air Act—the same argument made by automakers against California’s stricter emissions standards.

The law fought by the MTBoT is in line with the city’s comprehensive PlaNYC 2030 blueprint to reduce energy use, handle 1 million more residents, and cope with aging infrastructure. Because cabs must now be retired after three years—at which point they can have 250,000 to 300,000 miles—this means the entire fleet will more than halve its fuel usage and emissions by 2013. The TLC auctioned a limited set of special medallions just for hybrids in 2004, and the mandate followed a few years later. The first Escape Hybrid hit New York streets in November 2005, to rider acclaim. (Vancouver cabbie Andrew Grant used a Prius taxi starting in 2001.)

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  • Bryce

    Fuel efficiency is invading every aspect of the nation….and it is beautiful. : ) Sooner or later, I foresee not a penny sent to our “friends” in the middle-east. The sooner the better.

  • Anonymous

    As long as the oil companies continue to sleep with the U.S. government and American car companies, not only pennies, but dollars will be sent to our “friends” in the middle-east for years to come.

  • TD

    >Sooner or later, I foresee not a penny sent to our “friends” in the middle-east. The sooner the better.

    Here. Here!

  • Samie

    Can’t say change is easy, in general it scares lots of people we see this clearly in what history teaches us. And I’m not sure the big oil companies are behind this but clearly more costs are associated with New York Cites plan so of course some would object to this. Hybrid production is not at stellar outputs so I understand that. But I have to say if left in tack the plan deals with long term growth rates and pollution something that is hard to deal with in today’s political world of non stop bickering and attacks.

    As for Anonymous I’m not so convinced anymore that the auto companies are in bed with the oil boys, that is if not some weird conspiracy that wipes out any Volt or plug-in hybrid that’s produced in the next few years.

  • RKRB

    That’s a new worry for me. We bought an Escape hybrid three years ago and even though it’s been completely trouble-free since, we were never told it would not accept a bulletproof glass partition.
    I’m sorry, but we consumers need to get the government involved in this.

  • Dom

    Then somebody needs to either
    – Redesign the bullet-proof partition, or
    – Put a clean diesel or hybrid drive train in Ford Crown Victorias

  • Bryce

    lol RKRB………I think you are being sacracstic. : )

  • David

    Ok, if you’re upset about it. then take out the Airbags. THEY ARE NOT NECESSARY! Don’t create a Lawsuit about it. Jesus Christ!
    They are trying to do the right thing with these Hybrids, and then to pull this crap… You can’t sue someone for something that hasn’t effected anyone.

  • jvoelcker

    RKRB … Great comment 🙂 But maybe you should have used an emoticon or HTML code for [sarcasm] and [ / sarcasm] ?

    My parents have had an Escape Hybrid on order now since the start of the year. I told them exactly what you wrote — and they considered it solemnly, and then decided it would not be a deciding factor.


  • Old Man Crowder

    High five to David.

    We’ve gone decades without side-curtain airbags in our cabs and those same 240 million people have survived all right.

    Anything to stall change, I guess.

  • Bryce

    I like my skull not being smashed against the glass. I like side curtain airbags. : )

  • steved28

    Ummm, what happens if the next Crown Vic has side airbags? NY rickshaws?

  • Bryce

    lol, maybe even porter men…..or elephants.

  • Dustan

    First off, there are no more crown vics, the only crown vics still being sold are on police contacts through Ford. Second, as easy as it sounds to opt out of side airbags, its not that simple. As of 2010 all vehicles sold in the US must have side torso airbags up front and full length curtains along with ABS and some sort of traction/stability control system. Just like in the late 80’s when it was made law that all vehicles needed a 3rd brake light and in the 90’s front airbags.
    What needs to happen is the partition needs to be redesigned to work with the side airbags. The safety problem is real, if a partition is installed and the airbags go off the airbag will rupture and the gases in the airbags could have disastrous effects to everyone in the vehicle. And without the partitions the drivers are at risk of robberies and even being killed.
    I praise the mayors efforts to make NY greener, but the plan was rushed and these small details were clearly over looked.

  • Bob_C

    It is pretty transparent that the taxi companies are throwing any argument that will stick in order to avoid buying more expensive taxis.

  • Anonymous

    Ford Crown Victoria is IMO one of the most stupid creations of the US big-3 I’ve seen: it’s really big outside, while not offering almost any legroom in the back! It’s got a gasoline V8 of a 19th century design that is only capable of wasting gas!
    A much more reasonable alternative for taxi would be any minivan, and surely not gasoline-hybrid but at least diesel-powered. While diesel-hybrid or even gasoline-hybrid minivans are very rare (know just 1 model from Toyota), Europeans have been mass-producing normal diesel minivans with excelent mileage for decades. They’ve also got way cleaner emmissions these days than most of you can imagine.

  • kurtdaniel

    just have to be careful!!!!!

  • jay

    If it makes financial sense to buy a$30K hybrid to save $25/day on fuel costs – then believe me the economics will rive the changes – however until Ford can produce a commercial grade hybrid taxi – it will cost a lot of money to maintain the residential use hybrids to 300,000 miles of city use. re: european taxis, take a look at the London Taxis, are these more fuel efficient than the Crown Vic?