NEW YORK CITY – After a federal court ruling stalled a city initiative to make most new taxis hybrid vehicles, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said on Friday that he would seek another way, announcing new financial incentives aimed at pushing taxi owners to buy the more environmentally friendly gas-and-electric cars.
The goal of the new incentives, which involve changes in how much fleet owners can charge drivers for the use of cars, was to make it more expensive for the owners to use the Ford Crown Victoria, the most common cab today, and more profitable to use hybrids like the Ford Escape and other fuel-efficient vehicles that cause less pollution.
“By modifying the leasing fees on fleet vehicles, we could level the playing field for drivers while also providing financial incentives for owners to purchase hybrids,” Mr. Bloomberg said during a news conference at a taxi garage in Long Island City, Queens.
City officials said that the new rules did not place an outright ban on particular cars based on fuel efficiency, and the mayor said that the rules would stand up to legal tests.
“It has nothing to do with imposing mileage standards,” he said. “It’s totally voluntary.”
The mayor lashed out at critics, saying that the pollution from gas-guzzling taxis hurt city children. Told that critics found the new incentives “deeply troubling,” the mayor snapped, “I think it’s more deeply troubling that they’re trying to kill our kids.”
The city’s earlier attempt to promote more fuel-efficient taxis was blocked last month when a federal judge ruled that a legal challenge was likely to succeed based on the argument that under current laws, only the federal government had the right to set fuel-efficiency standards.
The proposal announced on Friday involves changes to the so-called lease caps, the amount — set by the Taxi and Limousine Commission — that a fleet or taxi owner can charge drivers for the use of a cab or medallion.
Those caps now range from $105 to $129 per 12-hour shift, depending on the day of the week and the time of day. There is also a weekly cap of $666 for seven 12-hour shifts.
Under the new program, owners could increase by $3 per shift the amount they charge drivers for the use of a fuel-efficient vehicle. That would translate to an additional $2,000 a year per vehicle, according to the city, although officials said that drivers would still come out ahead because they would spend less money on gas.
On the other hand, the city would decrease by $12 a shift the amount that owners could charge drivers for the use of a Crown Victoria or other less fuel-efficient vehicle. That represents a yearly loss of $8,500 a year per vehicle, according to the city.
Officials said that the change would mostly affect the approximately 25 percent of cabs that are managed in fleets, which have daily or weekly leases affected by the caps. Under the current system, officials say, fleet owners do not share the higher fuel costs of the less-efficient cabs, which are borne entirely by the drivers.
Owners who drive their own cabs (whether they own the medallion or lease it) already have an incentive to switch to a hybrid because of lower gas costs, officials said.
Jeff Kay, the director of the mayor’s office of operations, said that the new rules balanced the costs of fleet owners and drivers. Because the initial purchase price of hybrids is higher, the larger lease cap will allow fleet owners to recoup the extra cost over time. And because the Crown Victorias cost drivers more to operate with higher fuel expenses, the lower lease cap is meant to give the drivers a break.
The new caps require approval by the Taxi and Limousine Commission. The mayor said the new rule would probably be phased in over time.
The head of the taxi industry group that brought the federal lawsuit derailing the city’s original green taxi program accused the mayor of making “an end run around” the court ruling.
“Today’s attempt to buy off taxi operators and to use backdoor methods to force safe, proven commercial vehicles off the road is wrong and highly challengeable,” said Ron Sherman, the president of the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, in a written statement. And he cited claims by his group that the smaller and lighter hybrids were less safe for passengers and drivers than the heavier Crown Victorias.
The rule that was blocked in federal court last month would have required all new taxis to meet a fuel efficiency rating of 25 miles per gallon, a standard that is reached almost exclusively by hybrids. The Crown Victoria gets 12 to 14 miles per gallon.
Source: New York Times