TAMPA — A Toyota Prius is not a limousine, according to a panel of federal judges.
In a decision affirming a lower court ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit brought by Pinellas County limo company owner Moshe Leib after Hillsborough regulators said it was a stretch calling the gas-stingy Prius a limousine.
"I'm disappointed. They totally sided against the Prius' environmental benefits," he said.
Leib filed his lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Tampa in September 2007 after the county's Public Transportation Commission denied a request to operate his black 2007 Prius as a limo.
The commission said the compact hybrid four-seater, which claims 48 mpg in the city, didn't meet its definition as a luxury vehicle.
The decision barred Leib, the owner of TB Limo, from picking up passengers in Hillsborough County. He can pick them up in Pinellas, which is more lenient in regulating limousines, and take them into Hillsborough.
Leib went to federal court, arguing the commission treated him unequally under the law, violated his right to due process and that its definition of luxury car lacked rational basis. Plenty of customers who regularly ride in limos request the Prius out of environmental concerns, and that regulators elsewhere allow the Prius to operate under limo rules, he said.
"What do you mean by a luxury car?" said Leib. "In San Francisco, New York and L.A. they call it one there."
Leib said he doubts, though, he'll take his fight to the Supreme Court. His legal challenge has already cost him $30,000.
He said he could operate the vehicle as a taxi but has no idea how long it would take to get a taxi certificate and a vehicle permit in Hillsborough County.
Taxi permits are awarded by lottery once yearly based on the number of taxis operating, the number of applicants and Hillsborough's population. Two were awarded last year. Limo permits are not awarded by lottery.
Leib said he might try to get around the rules by setting up two companies: “ one to rent the Prius and the other to offer chauffeur services for the vehicle."
"They have no rules for that," he said.
Source: The Tampa Tribune