More Efficient Taxis On Hold In New York City
By Kevin Miller
Improved taxicab fuel economy and emissions are among the goals of New York City’s PlaNYC 2030, mayor Michael Bloomberg’s roadmap to improve housing, transportation, energy infrastructure and air quality in NYC. The plan’s new rules for taxicabs, which were to be in effect beginning October 1, 2008, require new taxicabs to have a minimum 25 MPG city rating, and 30 MPG for new taxis beginning in 2009. As it turns out, most taxi-sized vehicles with a city rating of 25 MPG or better are hybrid vehicles.
Earlier this week, the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, a taxi industry group, filed a Federal lawsuit seeking to block the city’s 25 MPG requirement for new taxicabs. The lawsuit contends that the city’s fuel economy rule violates Federal laws, which state that only the Federal government can set rules on fuel efficiency and vehicle emissions. The suit also claims that fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles were not built to withstand the heavy use that city cabs endure. Finally, the suit states that hybrid taxis are unsafe because they are smaller and lighter than the taxi-standard Ford Crown Victoria, thereby subjecting drivers and passengers to a greater risk of injury in an accident. The court is scheduled to hear arguments in the case next month.
The city’s fuel economy rule, and all other regulations governing operation of taxis in NYC, are overseen by New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC). The TLC is represented by the NYC legal department, which declined to comment on the lawsuit. The Taxi and Limousine Commission has previously stated it is confident that hybrid cabs are safe.
Among the TLC’s regulations is a requirement that taxicabs must be replaced after 36 months of service, during which time a typical taxi will travel approximately 400,000 miles. However, in response to the pending litigation, TLC is instituting a temporary change to rules governing replacement vehicles. Taxicabs scheduled for retirement in October can be operated until November, provided all inspection requirements are met. If the taxi owner does choose to replace the cab in October 2008, it must meet the 25 MPG requirement.
The TLC publishes a list of vehicles meeting the new fuel economy requirements:
– 2009 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid
– 2008, 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid
– 2008, 2009 Mercury Mariner Hybrid
– 2009 Mazda Tribute Hybrid
– 2008, 2009 Honda Civic Hybrid
– 2008, 2009 Lexus RX400H Hybrid
– 2008, 2009 Nissan Altima Hybrid
– 2008, 2009 Saturn Vue Hybrid
– 2008, 2009 Toyota Prius Hybrid
– 2008, 2009 Toyota Camry Hybrid
– 2008, 2009 Toyota Highlander Hybrid
– 2009 Volkswagen Jetta Diesel
In my opinion, the points made in the lawsuit are pretty weak. Several states in the Northeast and on the West Coast have enacted more stringent vehicle emission requirements than the Federally-mandated minimum. Also, hybrid vehicles meet the same Federal occupant safety requirements as non-hybrid vehicles sold in the US. Because all of the vehicles on the list above were engineered more recently than the Ford Crown Victoria, it could be argued that they have even more occupant safety features than the archaic Crown Vic, and would therefore provide better protection in a crash.
The most likely reason for taxi operators’ lawsuit is simply the purchase price of the new vehicles. The Crown Victoria is a fairly inexpensive vehicle to manufacture, and taxi fleets surely get a great price when buying them in large numbers. Conversely, the technology in the hybrid vehicles (and in the VW Jetta Diesel) is somewhat expensive, and because these efficient vehicles are in demand by consumers, automakers are not as likely to offer taxi fleet buyers significant discounts.
Over the projected 400,000 mile lifespan of the cabs, however, the fuel saving will be huge. With an EPA city rating of 15 MPG, the Crown Victoria will consume 26,666 gallons of fuel during its life as a taxi. A vehicle meeting the TLC’s minimum fuel economy rating of 25 MPG will use 16,000 gallons of gasoline, a significant difference of more than 10,000 gallons. Doing the math with a hypothetical price of $3.75/gallon, the Crown Victoria will cost $100,000 to refuel. The 25 MPG car will use $60,000 worth of fuel. That $40,000 fuel savings should offset the higher maintenance and purchase costs of the more efficient vehicle. The Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade should do the math, buy the more efficient vehicles, and get back to the business of transporting New York’s residents and visitors around the city.
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