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Mayor Plans an All-Hybrid Taxi Fleet

By Ray Rivera (The New York Times) - May 23, 2007

The spacious but gas-guzzling Ford Crown Victoria, long the emblematic vehicle of the city’s yellow cab fleet, would be replaced by cleaner, more fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles under a five-year plan proposed by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg yesterday.

The move, which requires approval by the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission, is part of the mayor’s ambitious environmental agenda for the city, PlaNYC, which calls for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2030.

“There’s an awful lot of taxicabs on the streets of New York City obviously, so it makes a real big difference,” Mayor Bloomberg said on NBC’s “Today” show yesterday. “These cars just sit there in traffic sometimes, belching fumes. This does a lot less; it’s a lot better for all of us.”

Replacing the city’s 13,000 yellow cabs, more than 90 percent of which are Crown Victorias, with hybrid vehicles would have the same impact on air quality as removing 32,000 privately owned vehicles from the road, the mayor said. Hybrids, which run on a combination of gasoline and electricity, emit less exhaust and are far more fuel-efficient; a hybrid Ford Escape, for instance, is rated at 34 miles per gallon in city driving.

Environmentalists have long complained about the poor gas mileage of the Crown Victoria, which gets 10 to 15 miles to the gallon in city traffic. But taxi owners and drivers say they like the vehicle’s spaciousness, dependability and safety.

In the last two years the city has added about 375 hybrid vehicles to the yellow cab fleet, including models like the Toyota Prius sedan; Toyota Highlander Hybrid, a sport utility vehicle; and Ford Escape, another S.U.V.

Under the mayor’s plan, that number would triple by October 2008 and would grow by about 20 percent each year after that.

While the plan does not specifically require that the new taxis be hybrids, it calls for all new vehicles entering the fleet beginning in October 2008 to get at least 25 miles to the gallon, rising to 30 miles to the gallon for cars entering the fleet the following year. City officials said the only vehicles that currently meet those fuel standards, as well as tougher emission standards that the mayor is proposing, are hybrids.

Mr. Bloomberg said the new regulations would have little impact on the city’s cab owners, who by law are required to replace their vehicles every three to five years, depending on their use. The city’s yellow cabs are privately owned but regulated by the Taxi and Limousine Commission, the head of which is appointed by the mayor.

He said the slightly higher cost of buying hybrid vehicles would be offset by the average $10,000 a year owners would save in fuel costs.

The mayor’s proposal for higher fuel standards was first reported in The Daily News yesterday.

PlaNYC initially called for converting the fleet within 10 years. But Mr. Bloomberg said City Councilman David Yassky, a longtime advocate of a greener taxi fleet, had persuaded him to cut that time in half.

The faster schedule, however, also reflects the mayor’s desire to get as much of his PlaNYC carried out before he leaves office at the end of 2009, especially those elements that do not require state approval or financing.

“I’ve never liked to plan something and then have somebody else have the responsibility of doing it or paying for it,” the mayor said yesterday.

The mayor and Mr. Yassky appeared together on the “Today” show and at a separate announcement at City Hall, flanked by 3 of 10 new hybrid Ford Escapes donated yesterday by Yahoo Inc. to a fleet operator, Team Systems.

“They gave us 10 cars, which they’re paying for, which is a heck of an impetus for us to go ahead and say, ‘Let’s do it now,’ ” the mayor said.

Cabdrivers and owners had mixed feelings about the mandate yesterday.

“The trick is to balance passenger comfort and safety, for the both the passenger and the driver, with environmental concerns,” Michael Woloz, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, an industry group, said yesterday. “The stretch Crown Victoria has met all those needs.”

Liaquat Janjma, 50, drives the night shift in a cab owned by a friend. Six months ago they switched from a Crown Victoria to a Toyota Highlander Hybrid, and the impact was immediate, saving him $20 to $50 a shift.

“The only bad thing is that repairs can be very, very expensive,” he said.

Matthew W. Daus, chairman of the Taxi and Limousine Commission, said that even with higher maintenance costs, “when you add it all up, with the gas savings, it’s going to mean more money in the drivers’ pockets.”

San Francisco, Boston and other cities have introduced hybrids into their taxi fleets, but New York City officials said the mayor’s plan was believed to be the most extensive of any major city.

The officials said the new fleets would cut carbon dioxide emissions by 215,000 metric tons a year, just a small fraction of the 58.3 million metric tons the city produces each year.

Still, Kate Sindig, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the mayor’s plan would “have real impacts, both in terms of air pollution and global warming gas emissions.”

“It also sends a really powerful signal around the world,” she added, “because New York is a city that is looked to around the world.”