Hybrid Taxis Face a Tough Road ~ Hybrid Car Review
Hybrid Car Review: Hybrid Taxis Face a Tough Road

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Hybrid Taxis Face a Tough Road

Even as San Francisco begins retiring their first hybrid taxis, Boston and NY taxi cab owners continue the fight to push off the requirements for them to go hybrid.

In 2005 San Francisco started with 15 Ford Escape Hybrid Taxi Cabs.  Those 15 hybrid cabs have made it to the 300,000 mile mark and at 300,000 miles, cabs in SF are forced to retire.

According to the story in the LA Times, the hybrid cabs have saved their drivers $9,000 a year, depending on gas prices and number of shifts driven.

Those original 15 cabs were a test, and they have had very  positive results.  14% of all taxis in SF are now hybrids, while 15% of those in NY City are hybrid.

Of course, Ford couldn't be happier with the results.  Gil Portalatin, hybrid systems application manager at Ford, noted "these things are tougher than nails. . . . We warranty the batteries for 150,000 miles and here you have cabs going out of service at 300,000 -- because that's the law, not because the cab's used up."

Meanwhile, in Boston and NYC, taxi owners, who have to pay for the hybrid cars, continue to fight the change over to hybrids.  In NYC, a successful lawsuit brought to an end the aggressive plan to hybridize the whole taxi fleet.  Boston is ready to follow in their footsteps.

NYC owners claimed the hybrid cars weren't fit to be taxis, and would require unsafe modifications to be used.  Boston taxi owners are a little more honest in their concerns, and are just plain worried about the cost.

"I support the used hybrids," said a plaintiff, Raphael Ophir of Jamaica Plain, who owns three hackney medallions and leases them to several cabdrivers. "But with this economy, with big companies going into Chapter 11, and with no credit available . . . delay it for two or three years."
The Boston plan is being phased in over a seven year period.

In New York, the city is attempting to entice owners into switching, rather than forcing them to. Owners basically rent out the taxis to drivers for their shift.  The owners are only allowed to charge the drivers so much per shift, however.  Drivers like hybrid taxis because they have to pay for the gas they use. 

But because they were successful in blocking the forced switchover to hybridize their fleet, owners are now being enticed to switch to hybrids in NYC.  If they have a hybrid taxi, they will be able to charge the driver more.  But owners complain that along with the enticement, there is a punishment for keeping the old taxis.  Every year, they will be forced to lower their 'rent' for any cars that don't meet certain fuel efficiency requirements.

Owners are reluctant to switch to hybrids and to be fair, it's understandable why.  The normal taxi cab has been the Crown Victoria, which can be purchased for anywhere from $4,000 to $10,000, while a hybrid taxi can cost two to three times that much to purchase and outfit.

But, with the first hybrids aging out, it's no longer possible for owners to argue against how long the hybrids will last.

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