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By Samuel R. Avro on Apr 1, 2009 with no responses

Hybrid Taxi Cab Requirements Trigger Fierce Debate

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A group of Boston taxi drivers have filed a federal lawsuit in an attempt to delay a rule which requires all of the city’s 1,825 cabs be hybrid vehicles by 2015. The 200 drivers and owners participating in the lawsuit say that the law will put many cabbies out of business, particularly those from smaller firms.

The plaintiffs say they do not oppose hybrid cars and generally favor the greening of the fleet. However, they say that the regulation requiring them to buy new hybrids instead of less expensive used ones is pointless and unfair.

According to the group, used hybrids can cost as little as a third of the price of a new hybrid.

“I support the used hybrids,” Raphael Ophir, who owns three hackney medallions and leases them to several cabdrivers, was quoted in the Boston Globe. “But with this economy, with big companies going into Chapter 11, and with no credit available . . . delay it for two or three years.”

Roughly 10 percent of the city’s cabs are hybrid vehicles.

The group of 200 cab operators, led by Ophir, calling themselves the Boston Taxi Operators Association, filed the suit Friday in the US District Court in Boston.

“Whether it’s a new hybrid or a used hybrid, either way it’s helping the environment,” said Paul H. Merry, a Boston lawyer hired by the association.

Boston isn’t the only city where the hybrid taxi issue has come under contention.

A group representing a quarter of New York City’s 13,000 cabs also filed suit last year against a law which would have required the city to have an all-hybrid fleet by 2012.

They argued that hybrid vehicles were not built to withstand the pounding that city taxis endure or to be used in commercial fleets. They also challenged the city’s authority, arguing that fuel economy and vehicle emissions standards are the domain of the federal government, not the city.

“It is completely unknown whether these modified cars would pass federal crash tests,” said automotive engineer C. Bruce Gambardella, author of the report. “No automaker would put such an inadequately tested vehicle on the road, nor should the public or any federal regulatory agency stand for it.”

In October, US District Judge Paul A. Crotty sided with the New York cab owners, and blocked the city from implementing Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s initiative.

Instead, the city is now introducing a set of incentives for cab operators to make the changeover to more  fuel efficient vehicles instead of the widely used Ford Crown Victoria.

In San Francisco, the city’s first 15 hybrid taxis, all Ford Escapes, have made it to about the 300,000-mile mark — nearing the city’s official taxi retirement age — and are being taken off the road.

Their longevity shows that hybrid technology is more durable than previously imagined, supporters say. They also have saved drivers about $9,000 a year, depending on gas prices and number of shifts driven.

“Ford never really intended this vehicle to be used as a taxi,” says Paul Gillespie, former president of the San Francisco Taxicab Commission. “We adopted it because I was desperate to find a vehicle that would save drivers fuel costs and save greenhouse gas emissions.”

“A driver driving a Crown Victoria might get $50 worth of gas. A driver driving a Ford Escape got $23,” one cab company manager said, when gas was $4.50 a gallon. “The money went into the driver’s pocket.”