NYC Hybrid Taxis Killed by “Patchwork Excuse”

A US Federal judge barred New York City last week from implementing a regulation that all new taxicabs achieve at least 25 miles per gallon, which was to have taken effect November 1, rising to 30 mpg a year later.

On Halloween Day, Judge Paul A. Crotty agreed with a taxi-owners group that said the city’s mandate was pre-empted by both the recent Energy Policy & Conservation Act, which restricts vehicle-emissions regulation to the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the Clean Air Act.

Judge Paul A. Crotty height="169" />
Ford Escape Hybrid Taxi height="169" />
Mayor Michael Bloomberg height="169" />

Left Judge Paul A. Crotty. Center: Ford Escape Hybrid Taxi. Right: Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
ut eum.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg promptly fired off a strongly worded statement that slammed the ruling. “The decision is not a ruling against hybrid cabs,” he said, “rather…that archaic Washington regulations are applicable, and therefore New York City and all other cities are prevented from choosing to create cleaner air and a healthier place to live.”

The judge’s ruling accepts the same argument automakers use in trying to end California’s right to set its own vehicle emissions standards. That right was accepted 30 years ago, but after President Bush signed higher fuel-economy laws last December, the EPA denied California’s routine waiver for its own, stricter limits on greenhouse gases. That in turn brought a prompt Congressional investigation into political interference by EPA administrator Stephen Johnson.

The “Patchwork Excuse”

Automakers frequently cite their fear of a “patchwork of legislation,” calling it a “nightmare” to build cars to different standards for different states. But in fact, they have done exactly that for 30 years. California is the sole state allowed to set stricter standards; the other 49 states may only choose the national limits or California’s. Thus far, several Northeast states require new cars sold there to meet California standards.

The September lawsuit against New York City came from the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade (MTBoT), which said the high-mileage hybrids were “unfit and unsafe” for use as taxis. The rule was part of the city’s comprehensive PlaNYC 2030 blueprint to cut energy use; the taxi fleet would have halved its fuel use and emissions by 2013. This isn’t Mayor Bloomberg’s first environmental defeat; his plan for congestion pricing was rejected by the state legislature in April, after what some called his inept, high-handed politicking.

The ruling eliminates all but voluntary purchases of hybrid cabs in New York—unless or until the city rewrites its rules to compel the same effect in a legal way. The first Escape Hybrid hit city streets in November 2005; now almost 1,500 of the city’s 13,200 yellow medallion taxis are hybrids, largely Ford Escape Hybrids. New Yorkers also see taxi yellow on a few of almost every hybrid, from Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and Chevrolet models to a luxury Lexus RX400h Hybrid.

In 2007, Mayor Bloomberg, announcing that all New York City cabs will become hybrids on the Today show. He explains the environmental benefits.

Safety, Cost, or Just Fear of Change?

Most of the city’s taxis remain full-sized Ford Crown Victoria sedans, built only for fleet sales. Cabbies say the 4.6-liter V8s give 12 mpg if they’re lucky, going as low as 8 mpg, and they’re ecstatic over having to buy less fuel. But taxi owners loathe the hybrids, largely because they aren’t the simple, cheap cars they’ve used for decades. So while the lawsuit can be seen as a legitimate public safety concern, it can also be viewed as a way for taxi owners to avoid the added cost and unfamiliarity of new vehicles.

New York taxi riders may be shocked that, among its litany of complaints, the MTBoT lawsuit worries that hybrids cut passenger legroom up to 10 inches. This may be the first time in history taxi owners have professed concern about the actual experience of their paying customers.


  • Laird Ehlert

    Dear Editor,

    I am writing to ask permission to reprint your article NYC Hybrid Taxis Killed by “Patchwork Excuse”, either in whole or in part, in our 2008 New York City Legislative Annual. It’s a cuccinct an well written article. We would of course give your website and author full acknowlegement. Thanks,

    Laird Ehlert
    Executive Director
    New York Legislative Service, Inc.
    http://www.nyls.org – A NY not-for-profit organization

  • Samie

    I suspect the EPA is going to go through lots of changes in the next few years so don’t get worked up over this one :)

    “The judge’s ruling accepts the same argument automakers use in trying to end California’s right to set its own vehicle emissions standards. That right was accepted 30 years ago, but after President Bush signed higher fuel-economy laws last December, the EPA denied California’s routine waiver for its own, stricter limits on greenhouse gases. That in turn brought a prompt Congressional investigation into political interference by EPA administrator Stephen Johnson.”

    Very interesting part of the article!

    I guess the old Crown Vic lives to see another day….

  • sullivas6

    There is always more than one way to attack an issue. If the court does not allow the city to set emmission standards, the city should pass a tax on the fleet owners of $2000-3000 per year for each vehicle that averages less than 25 miles a gallon. Thereby the operators are not required to buy new cars, but you sure give them a good finanical incentive to do so.

  • AP

    The premise of the article is ridiculous. You say “the same argument automakers use in trying to end California’s right to set its own vehicle emissions standards.” No one wants to limit California’s right to solve their own pollution issues. The issue is that their limiting CO2 emissions doesn’t solve ANYTHING.

    The reason California was given permission by the federal government to set its own emissions standards was a good one: it had a LOCAL problem of many vehicles emitting pollution in a “basin” surrounded by mountains. Its vehicles alone caused the pollution problem, so they could completely solve the issue with their own regulations of local pollutants (carbon monoxide, unburned hydrocarbons, and NOx).

    40 years later, they want to limit CO2 emissions which do not create a local pollution problem, but a global one. CO2 is a natural emission from burning all currently used fuels, so the only way to limit it is to burn less. This gives them two options: set higher fuel economy standards (putting the burden on someone else) or raising their own fuel tax (putting the burden on them).

    Only one agency has the authority to set higher fuel standards: the federal government. So despite having no authority to raise fuel economy standards, they still tried to do it because it puts the burden elsewhere.

    Now ask yourself whether California or NYC are solving a problem with this, or making a statement at someone else’s expense. The CO2 emissions from California and NYC taxis are a drop in the bucket compared to the rest of the world (especially with China increasing their use of coal power plants), so their CO2 limits will do NOTHING to prevent global warming.

    So California and NYC are making a statement, not solving a problem. That being the case, California should bear its expense and raise fuel taxes. As for NYC, sullivas6 has the right idea, to tax the taxis more if they are below some number, or give them a tax break if they are above it.

    I’d ask the author and Mr. Ehlert to note California’s inconsistency in the matter of CO2 being considered a pollutant. California refers to electric vehicles as ZEV’s (Zero Emission Vehicles), even though the powerplant that provides the electricity burns fossil fuels to produce it, producing CO2. So “Zero Emission Vehicles” means there are no pollutants, making CO2 a non-pollutant.

    Which is it?

  • Dom

    I agree with AP, California and NYC should not be in the business of regulating emissions anymore. As he said, just raise the fuel tax and/or tax the taxis and the problem will take care of itself.

  • jvoelcker

    @AP: While your local-problem argument makes sense, that is not what the current law requires. The Supreme Court said CO2 and GHGs are airborne pollutants, which the EPA must regulate. There is a 30-year trail of precedent for CA having the right to set its own regulations.Do you know whether the reasons for CA having that right are specified?

    And, frankly, the ‘ “patchwork” argument simply doesn’t wash. The image of a patchwork (think quilt) is of many pieces, each with a different color or pattern. And this is absolutely not what the law allows, nor what automakers would face under any scenario. It’s a brilliant, but highly deceptive, PR phrase.

    Remember, NYC is not regulating the sale or availability of cars. It is requiring a performance standard for a very specific class of vehicles–same as requiring them to have special lights, meters, AC for rear passengers, and now TV screens and credit-card meters and god knows what else.

    You’re entirely right that gas taxes may be the best way to adjust demand. Another sensible policy might be a floor on gasoline prices, which would give automakers some predictability in product mixes that have to be set 3-5 years ahead of launch.

    But those solutions have been, at least until now, utterly off the table for political reasons.

    See http://www.hybridcars.com/incentives-laws/mileage-requirements-wrong-way

    “Unfortunately, in America, you’ll also sign your political death warrant [advocating higher gas taxes or price floors],” [an auto analyst in that piece] says. “Any attempt to raise fuel taxes is viewed as something between treason and terrorism. It boggles my mind that politicians actively push for higher and higher CAFE standards for automakers, while at the same time (and sometimes in the same speech!) advocating measures to bring down fuel prices.”

    Until this country has a REAL energy policy that looks at sources, uses, conservation, climate change, energy security, ALL sectors (not just transport), and has a perspective longer than the next election … the citizens of California chose to take matters into their own hands. And it would appear that they can legallly do so.

    Unless the enabling legislation restricts those actions to solely local conditions, which I have never seen written about anywhere.

    And I hope everyone reading this voted (or votes) today.

  • Van

    Excellent article and comments, especially by AP.

  • Will S

    AP said:

    >Now ask yourself whether California or NYC are solving a problem with this, or making a statement at someone else’s expense.

    The journey of 1000 miles begins with the first step. Every jurisdiction that realizes the decrease of GHG emissions is a part of the solution. Those that remain mired in “business as usual” remain part of the problem.

    > California refers to electric vehicles as ZEV’s (Zero Emission Vehicles), even though the powerplant that provides the electricity burns fossil fuels to produce it, producing CO2.

    California gets its electricity from a number of sources, some fossil fuel, some not. Non-fossil sources amount to over 37% of California’s electricity, while coal amounts to less than 17%.
    http://energyalmanac.ca.gov/overview/energy_sources.html

  • Paul Rivers

    “AP”‘s argument of “I don’t think reducing CO2 is going to do enough to help global warming, so I don’t think they should be able restrict it at all” is something I just don’t buy. It isn’t one, single person who suddenly decides that they should regulate some emission more, it takes and entire legislature to approve a new law about it. And if they want to, why on earth shouldn’t they be able to set high emissions standards?

    The only argument that’s been expressed is that it’s inconvenient for the automakers.

    Seriously, think about it. The ONLY reason not to let them set higher emissions standards? Because automakers find it inconvenient.

    That’s not a justifiable reason.

  • jvoelcker

    @AP, @Will S: It’s worth pointing out that a very solid joint study by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and the Natural Resources Defense Fund (NRDF)–which is to say, electric utilities + enviros–concluded that under the vast majority of scenarios, powering vehicles with electricity emits less carbon than does burning gasoline to move them around.

    The edge cases are places like Ohio, where most power comes from extremely dirty, non-retrofitted plants burning coal. But in the case of CA, a mile driven on electricity is FAR cleaner than one driven on gasoline.

    And the grid will get continually cleaner and less carbon-intensive (in the US, at least; China is another matter), and possibly at lower expense than requiring the same reductions in combustion-engined vehicles.

  • Anonymous

    Paul Rivers said:
    “The only argument that’s been expressed is that it’s inconvenient for the automakers.

    Seriously, think about it. The ONLY reason not to let them set higher emissions standards? Because automakers find it inconvenient.

    That’s not a justifiable reason.”

    Yes it is. Inconsistent standards is just going end up increasing the cost of doing business for the automakers, which they will gladly pass on to you and me. I’d prefer a cheaper car and let the EPA be the only manager emissions or emission standards. At this point the gains are so small it’s almost silly.

  • Joe

    Taxi cab companies are buying old police cars for taxi, that are worn out. They better look for something else, because when the company Carbon Motors are building purpose built Police Cars that get gas mileage in the 20-30mpg and will not be sold to the general public, but returned to the company.
    I wish Hybridcars.com would do article on Carbon Motors. http://www.carbonmotors.com/

  • jvoelcker

    @Joe: In NYC, taxi cab companies are NOT buying “old police cars”. They are buying brand-new, long-wheelbase, taxi-spec Ford Crown Victorias. Other cities may used worn-out cop cars, but not here.

  • RKRB

    Thanks for the article. When lawyers rule, we all can lose. And there’s a good chance we will.

  • Collin Burnell

    I HATE the argument that we should not try to improve our air quality because China is building Coal Power Plants!!! Are you saying we should just wait around with our thumbs up our asses until China get’s their act together??? China knows it has a problem and their are many people there trying to solve it, and one day they will. But for us to wait or to use THAT as an excuse to procrastinate is insanity!!! Don’t you people care that your families are breathing in poison a daily basis? It’s not just about CO2!!! And don’t give me the crap about CO2 being ‘natural’ because we all know it’s about the UNNATURAL level’s of CO2, not the gas itself!!!
    IDIOTS!!!

  • AP

    Paul Rivers: I did not make that argument. California is free to reduce their CO2 emissions as much as they want. And yes, every journey begins with a single step (though ELIMINATING California’s CO2 emissions would probably not make a measurable difference in global CO2). But they do not need to legislate lower CO2 emissions/mile to get there. The other alternative I spelled out was for California to raise their own fuel tax higher to reduce driving. If it’s important to Californians to reduce CO2, they surely must be willing to pay for doing it! Power to the people!

    My other point about electrical energy creating CO2 wasn’t saying that electric cars might not produce less CO2 – they probably do. My point was that California calls them “ZERO” emission vehicles, so obviously they must think “remote” emissions of CO2 don’t count. Otherwise, California needs to call them ZLEGPV’s (Zero Local Emissions of Global Pollutants Vehicles).

  • AP

    Colin Burnell: Do you know that breathing atmospheric CO2 is not harmful, even at the higher levels that are projected? The issue is the greenhouse effect – not your local air quality.

    But you bring up a good point: California’s laws were enabled by the “Clean Air Act.” How does reducing CO2, which isn’t dirty, come into play?

  • AP

    CAdriver: You may never have been involved in mass production of hardware systems, like a car, but you must sell many thousands of any powertrain variant to offset the tremendous engineering costs. If you don’t make money on it, you go out of business.

    Every problem involves a cost to solve it. California could do their part for free, by raising their own fuel tax. It would be cheap to implement, easy to collect, and make a measurable reduction in CA CO2 emissions. If you ask car manufacturers to do it, EACH manufacturer has to reengineer their cars, add in hardware, modify engine control software, certify them, and label them – to produce an immeasurable reduction in global CO2. It’s much more expensive and wasteful, but it does have one great advantage: California doesn’t have to pay for it!

  • YorkMan

    My friends, I think any transition to hybrid cars in new york city should take account of the car durabilty and the power to handle new york city streets. These taxis works 24h/7 days with 2 drivers and sometimes 3 drivers. And then it should take account of the driver safety and reliability on the road.
    Cabbies in New York City love Crown victoria because it lasts long and easy to mantain. Therefore, the city should look fo a typical vehicle that respect all the previous qualities and then hybrid.
    http://www.nycitycab.com

  • aym

    There are other jurisdictions that have used hybrid taxis. I believe there is a couple of Prius is the 200000 – 300000 range, driven 24 hours a day with shifts of drivers. There has been a problem with only one hybrid cab that I know of and that was an electronic problem that allowed the battery to totally discharge. Other than that they work as dependably as any car. Certain aspects of the vehicle are made cheaper as in brake parts.

    The gov’t of NY has the right to create regulations that benefit the whole of the NY citizenry. That is why they were elected. They have the right to create standards for the cab companies that they already do such as limited road life.

    Hopefully the EPA will reverse it’s position now that a more progressive administration will soon take place.

  • Nikita Khruschev

    These hybrid taxis are very small and cause real problems for large passengers and large drivers. They are totally inadequate for luggage transport to and from airports. Michael Bloomberg is also very small. He may be nursing some real grievances against larger people. Forcing people who never harmed him into torture chamber taxis is not a good way to work this problem out.

  • taxi

    I am knowing why NYC Hybrid Taxis Killed by “Patchwork Excuse”from this site.But The electrical energy creating CO2 wasn’t saying that electric cars might not produce less CO2 – they probably do.My point was that California calls them “ZERO” emission vehicles.taxi