Judge Strikes Down NYC's Green-Cab Incentive
June 22, 2009 - 4:04 PMA judge on Monday rejected the city's latest maneuver to force taxicab owners to buy fuel-efficient hybrids, the second time in eight months he deemed such rules to be pre-empted by federal laws.
Under the rules rejected by U.S. District Judge Paul A. Crotty, companies that own fuel-saving cabs would have been allowed to charge drivers slightly higher rental rates; companies with gas-hungry vehicles would see their rates decrease over a two-year period.
In October, Crotty rejected for the same reason other rules the city had devised to try to force the fleet of yellow cabs to go green by 2012. Those rules would have required new cabs to be fuel efficient.
The judge praised the city's intent but said efforts to encourage the purchase of hybrid vehicles must be careful not to interfere with Congress' exclusive jurisdiction over laws related to mileage or emission standards.
"The court's purpose is not to interfere with government officials taking actions in the public interest," he wrote. "Increasing the number of hybrid taxicabs is an appropriate and important governmental priority."
The judge noted there were no legal challenges to decisions by the city to issue new taxi medallions only to hybrid vehicles or to allow hybrid cabs to stay in service longer.
Michael A. Cardozo, head of the city's law department, said the city was disappointed.
"We do not believe that Congress intended to prohibit local governments from implementing incentive programs ... that encourage the purchase of environmentally friendly taxis. We are exploring our legal options," he said in a statement.
Of the city's 13,000 yellow taxicabs, 2,060, or about 16 percent, are hybrid or clean-diesel vehicles.
The ruling came in a lawsuit brought by taxi owners who said the new rules left them no choice but to buy only hybrid vehicles in the future.
The first reduction in the amount cab companies could charge to lease cabs that were not fuel efficient was to go into effect on May 1. Crotty had ordered the city not to impose the new restriction before July 1 so he would have time to rule.
By 2011, hybrid taxicabs would cost $15 more per shift than ones that were not fuel efficient.
The Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, said it applauded the ruling for preventing the city "from imposing drastic financial penalties that would severely punish taxi fleets that operate nonhybrid vehicles."
"We have always preferred to work with the city of New York to adopt a viable plan for a safe, reliable, comfortable, economical and fuel-efficient taxi fleet. We renew that commitment today," it added.
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