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Red light for green taxis in New York City

/ Source: staff and news service reports

A federal judge on Friday blocked New York City from forcing taxi operators to using higher mileage, and less polluting, vehicles.

The ruling by Judge Paul Crotty threw a major roadblock in the way of a plan to require new cabs to get at least 25 miles per gallon. That rule was due to take effect Saturday and has the full support of Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Taxi operators said in a lawsuit that fuel-efficient vehicles were not built to withstand the pounding that city cabs endure.

In his preliminary injunction, Crotty said it appears the taxi operators will win the case because the new Taxicab & Limousine Commission regulations are pre-empted under federal laws.

The laws reserve regulation of fuel economy and emissions standards to federal agencies, Crotty noted.

An environmental group countered that the judge had compared apples to oranges. The city "commission is not requiring auto manufacturers to raise their fuel efficiency standards, which is the role of federal law," noted Isabelle Silverman of the Environmental Defense Fund. "It's just requiring cab drivers to buy fuel-efficient vehicles that are already on the market."

Ron Sherman, head of the drivers' association, hailed the ruling. "This has never been about whether or not the taxi industry should be embracing a greener, more fuel-efficient fleet. This is about safety and common sense.

"We have been actively working with the auto industry and city to bring a safe, comfortable, fuel-efficient taxicab to the market," he added. "And while we're pleased that these 'taxis of tomorrow' may be available as early as this summer, the much smaller, non-commercial passenger hybrids available for purchase today are unsafe when outfitted with hard, bullet-proof partitions and unfit for 24/7 taxi service."