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New York Mayor Demands Federal Hybrid Taxi Law

Bloomberg and other city bosses angered by federal ruling limiting their control over taxi fleets.

by on Jul.30, 2010

Though a federal court has blocked rules requiring the switch to greener vehicles, more than a quarter of NY cabs are already hybrid-powered.

With New York’s never-shy Michael Bloomberg taking point, a coalition of American mayors is pressing Congress to give them permission to green their taxi fleets.

The Big Apple is just one of the cities that had been trying to force taxi operators to switch from conventional gasoline vehicles to cleaner alternatives, such as hybrids – but a federal court has blocked such efforts ruling that power resides solely with the federal government.

So, unless the ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals is overturned, Bloomberg and his counterparts in five other cities are pressing lawmakers on Capitol Hill to revise the rules.

The goal, they declared, in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), is to “ensure that taxicabs and other for-hire vehicles in our cities are fuel efficient.”  The mayoral coalition suggested that by greening the vehicles in their cities 50 million gallons of fuel could be saved annually.  The move would also have a significant impact on the emission of CO2 and other pollutants.

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Bloomberg has been campaigning for cleaner taxis for more than three years.  He has even tried encouraging the development of vehicles specifically to serve as greener taxis, though in many cities, the push has simply been to adopt hybrid technology or other alternatives, such as compressed natural gas.

Taxi fleet operators have countered by warning that while such a move might save fuel, it could still increase their overall operating costs because of the higher purchase price of hybrids and potential maintenance cost issues.  There is also concern that battery packs and CNG tanks would reduce both passenger and cargo space.

But the court focused on federal clean air rules which, it determined, permit only the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to set fuel economy standards.  The same mandate was cited when the courts blocked a proposed California CO2 rule which, critics argued, was the equivalent of a state-set fuel economy standard.

Congress has already been looking at ways to enhance the fuel economy of America’s cabs, but there has been no movement in the Green Taxi Act first introduced in late 2009.

Along with New York, the other five cities pressing for passage are Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Las Vegas and Washington, D.C., all cities with large amounts of business and tourism traffic.

Even while resisting the proposed ordinances, a growing number of taxi operators have been looking for more fuel-efficient alternatives.  In New York City, for example, 3,693 of its 13,237 hacks are hybrids, including Toyota Prius sedans and Ford Escape Hybrids.  A handful of cabs now run on CNG or Clean Diesel.

The auto industry would like to see the switch, manufacturers have said, looking at the nation’s taxis as a way to both boost demand for alternative power vehicles and increase the visibility of the technology.  Surviving the demanding duties of a taxi also makes a statement, officials say, about the durability of gas-electric technology and their own models.

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