New York to add more hybrids to taxi fleet

This Ford Escape Hybrid taxi is one of just a few gasoline-electric vehicles now taking passengers in New York City. Adam Rountree / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

They may be yellow cabs, but they are also green.

The number of environmentally friendly taxicabs on New York City streets could grow tenfold after this summer, when the city designates a significant portion of new taxi medallion licenses for alternative-fuel cabs.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission is scheduled to sell 308 medallions in June, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg has directed the agency to assign 254 for vehicles that use hybrid fuel technology or compressed natural gas, which boast better mileage and lower emissions.

Now, just 27 alternative-fuel or hybrid cabs are in operation.

"By encouraging alternative-fuel and hybrid taxis, New Yorkers get cleaner air, drivers have lower fuel costs and we all become less reliant on foreign oil," Bloomberg said in a statement.

The commission has approved several models for use as cabs, including Toyota Motor Corp.'s Prius, Highlander Hybrid, Camry Hybrid and Lexus RX400h, Honda Motor Co.'s Civic and Accord hybrids, Ford Motor Co.'s Escape Hybrid and Mercury Mariner Hybrid and Saturn Corp.'s upcoming Vue hybrid.

The chairman of the agency, Matthew Daus, said at a recent City Council hearing that he opposed a bill requiring half the new medallions to be alternative fuel. One reason he gave was that the hybrid models do not generally accommodate the safety dividers between the front and back seats that are customary throughout the city's fleet of 12,779 taxis.

After the mayor's directive on Thursday, the agency said those concerns could be resolved. Some of the models may be fitted with partitions, and those without the dividers are equipped with security cameras.

Daus said in a statement that the increase is a "bold and positive step that will reduce emissions while providing significant advances in fuel economy for drivers."

The remaining 54 medallions will be designated for wheelchair-accessible cabs, doubling the number currently on the streets.