Judge Blocks City’s Penalty for Nonhybrid Cab Owners

Posted on June 24, 2009 by LCT Staff - Also by this author - About the author

NEW YORK — A federal judge dealt another setback on Monday to the Bloomberg administration’s two-year effort to convert the city’s yellow taxi fleet to gas-and-electric hybrids from the ubiquitous Ford Crown Victoria.

Judge Paul A. Crotty of Federal District Court in Manhattan said a plan to financially penalize taxi owners who refused to buy hybrid cars amounted to an effort by the city to mandate emissions standards — a right that, under existing laws, belongs solely to the federal government.

The same judge made much the same argument last October when he struck down an earlier plan to set a minimum miles-per-gallon rating for taxis.

Both plans were attempts to ensure that taxi owners buy hybrid vehicles, part of the mayor’s broader push to make the city more environmentally friendly. But the proposals were promptly challenged by taxi owners.

In his ruling on Monday, Judge Crotty said he supported the merits of buying hybrids. At stake instead, he wrote, was a knotty legal issue over whether the city’s regulation amounted to a mandate to buy hybrids. That, he said, would interfere with the federal government’s pre-eminent role in setting fuel-efficiency and engine-emissions standards.

The city had planned to reduce the amount of money that taxi owners could charge to lease nonhybrid vehicles, a financial incentive program that, the city believed, skirted those legal issues.

Instead, Judge Crotty said the same problem applied, as the financial incentives were equivalent to “a de facto mandate.”

On Monday, city officials said they were disappointed and were exploring their legal options.

“We do not believe that Congress intended to prohibit local governments from implementing incentive programs, including those such as the New York City program the court today enjoined, that encourage the purchase of environmentally friendly taxis,” Michael A. Cardozo, a lawyer for the city, said in a statement. Michael Woloz, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, the main group behind the lawsuit, said that his group supported a more fuel-efficient fleet. But he said owners were concerned that the current crop of hybrid vehicles were not built to withstand the wear and tear of navigating the city’s bumpy streets.

Source: The New York Times

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