Latest Hazard in NYC: Hybrid Taxis

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Talking to drivers of the hybrid taxis quickly proves they don’t just like their hybrids—they love them. Most NYC taxis are leased by fleet owners to individual operators for a weekly fee of about $500, though the hybrids run $630. Crucially, drivers must return the cab full of gas at the end of the shift. In taxi usage, a Crown Vic gets 8 to 14 miles per gallon, but an Escape Hybrid returns 25 to 30 miles per gallon. As gas prices soared over the last six months, fleet drivers had to pay more and more to refuel the cab—without any increase in meter rates. Hybrid drivers, one told The New York Times, pay just $10 in gas at the end of their shift, against $35 for a Crown Vic.

But because fleet owners don’t pay for gasoline, they save no money from operating hybrids. In fact, the law costs them more. Old wives’ tales persist on how much Ford Crown Vic cabs actually cost, when purchased in bulk—but the cost is most likely far lower than $20,000. Try to find an Escape Hybrid or Prius for that.

Taxi fleet owners prefer simple, proven, traditional technologies. For one thing, they’re easiest to repair. They are comfortable with full-size, rear-wheel-drive, body-on-frame Crown Vics, which they’ve used for 25 years, exclusively since the 1996 demise of the Chevrolet Caprice. Six years ago, Ford stretched the Crown Vic, significantly improving passenger space in the rear even with a steel-and-plexiglass partition installed. So fleets avoid front-wheel-drive, they avoid unibodies—and the notion of electric motors and high-voltage electronics makes them break out in hives.

So while the lawsuit can be viewed as a legitimate public safety concern, it can also be viewed as a convenient way for taxi owners to avoid taking on the added expense and unfamiliar repairs and parts of a new type of vehicle.

The TLC’s first deputy commissioner Andrew Salkin fought back at a City Council hearing held yesterday, entitled “Green Cabs: Are They Safe?” In his words, “taxicabs with improved gas mileage are fully performing, saving drivers money and doing so safely.” He also testified that there was “no credible evidence” that the hybrids were unsafe. Earlier in the year, TLC commissioner Matthew Daus had also noted that the agency found fewer problems when inspecting the hybrids than in standard cabs.

The story will continue to unfold as the lawsuit winds its way through the courts. For the moment, Big Apple taxi passengers retain the choice of a fuel-saving hybrid or a standard Crown Vic. Most New Yorkers, of course, take the first cab that comes along—and some of them wouldn’t notice if it were a Hummer. But, hey, that’s New York.


  • 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.

    Ahem.

  • 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?