Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Taxi and Limousine Commission has reversed itself, again, on hybrid cabs.
According to new, proposed rules issued today, cabbies will still be able to drive hybrid taxis on New York City streets, even after the Taxi of Tomorrow, which runs on an old-fashioned combustion engine, hits the road this Halloween.
"We’ve heard from some taxi operators that they’d like a hybrid option until the Taxi of Tomorrow is available as a hybrid, and these proposed rules enable that, while ensuring that any hybrid taxi is spacious enough to comfortably accommodate passengers and luggage," said TLC commissioner David Yassky, in a statement.
In 2005, comptroller John Liu and Yassky, then councilmembers, introduced legislation requiring that the city approve hybrid vehicles for use as taxicabs.
Two years later, Yassky joined Bloomberg on the "Today" show, where the mayor announced that, "We’re gonna have all of our cabs be hybrid."
The target date for the transformation of the taxi fleet to all-hybrid vehicles was 2012.
Then an industry group representing wealthy taxi medallion owners put the kibosh on that initiative, when it argued successfully in court that only the federal government could institute fuel efficiency standards.
But even if the city could not mandate an all-hybrid taxi fleet, many medallion owners, recognizing the cost-saving benefits of fuel efficiency, moved in that direction on their own.
By September of last year, 6,500 cabs, or 49 percent of the city's fleet, were hybrid.
The Bloomberg administration, however, was at the same time charting a course away from the hybrid taxis it had once championed.
Last year, the city's taxi commission approved the Taxi of Tomorrow program, which starting on Halloween, will require that medallions owners buy only specially deisgned, Nissan NV200s for use as taxis.
Those NV200s have a lot going for them, as far as passenger and driver amenities are concerned, but they run on combustion engines, not hybrid ones.
Following a lawsuit by the Greater New York Taxi Association challenging the Taxi of Tomorrow program for, among other things, its omission of hybrid vehicles, the city is again changing course.
According to the proposed rules released today, medallion owners will now be able to choose between either an NV200 or a TLC-approved hybrid vehicle.
But only until Nissan comes up with a hybrid NV200 version of its own.
A hearing on the proposed rules will be held on May 16.
The rules, it should be noted, will also reduce the number of hybrid vehicle models for use as taxis, which Greater New York Taxi Association executive director Ethan Gerber said means that "virtually no hybrid models qualify."
"This is just a cynical and last ditch effort to bypass our law suit," Gerber emailed me. "It is not a serious proposal."