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It’s Easy Being Green: Yellow Taxis Shift to a Greener Gear

SOURCE: Flickr/Yodel Anecdotal

New York City's taxi fleet is now 15 percent hybrid vehicles, many of which are Ford Escape hybrids like these.

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Taxicab yellow, one of America’s most iconic hues, is facing some competition from horsepower of a different color: green. Eco-friendly cab companies are springing up in cities across the country.

Frustration over high gas prices and a growing environmental conscience has spurred some companies and drivers to make the switch to hybrid cabs. In February 2005 San Francisco became the first city in the United States to use hybrid SUVs for taxis, introducing a fleet of 15 Ford Escapes operated by two different companies. Since then many others companies and cities have followed suit. In Denver, Metro Taxi is replacing its older taxis with Toyota Prius hybrids, while back at the shop they use Clean Burn furnaces, which recycle used oil from oil changes to heat the building. Metro Taxi estimates that once their entire fleet of 500 cabs goes hybrid in about three years they will save 2.6 million gallons of gas annually.

New York City is home to the largest fleet of taxicabs in the country with 13,237 cabs, 15 percent of which are hybrids. In 2007 Mayor Michael Bloomberg made a bold move to require all NYC taxicabs to be hybrids by 2012, but the initiative was defeated in a federal court. Judge Paul A. Crotty ruled that the mayor’s program was pre-empted by federal emissions law.

The legal problems arose when taxi operators sued the city claiming that hybrids weren’t tough enough to handle running almost 24/7 on New York City’s pothole-ridden streets.

However, as more and more New York City hybrid taxis reach retirement age it is evident that they often do so in better condition than their nonhybrid counterparts.

“The decision is not a ruling against hybrid cabs,” Bloomberg said, “rather a ruling that archaic Washington regulations are applicable and therefore New York City, and all other cities, are prevented from choosing to create cleaner air and a healthier place to live.” But despite the rulings Bloomberg has not given up on New York’s hybrid taxi crusade. The city’s renewed program now offers incentives for cabbies who make the switch, making it financially savvy for NYC taxis to shift into greener gears.

Much of the resistance to going green stems from the initial financial burden cab operators must bear when purchasing new hybrid vehicles. The longer-term savings, however, are worth considering. San Francisco’s hybrid taxis, for example, save drivers an estimated $9,000 a year. And today’s high and unpredictable gas prices make fuel-efficient cabs fiscally as well as environmentally conservative in the long term.

In addition to cost there’s no doubt that a hybrid taxi, which gets anywhere from 30-50 mpg, is better for the environment than its gas-hungry Crown Victoria cousin, which gets only 12 to 14 mpg. But are hybrid taxis a commuter’s greenest option? Probably not, since in an urban space where one has access to metro rails and buses or the option to walk or bike, these are still far greener choices. Even hybrid cars emit some greenhouse gases.

If you’re in a crunch and must take a cab, try to opt for a company like Envirocab of Arlington, VA. Envirocab is the world’s first carbon-negative taxi fleet. The company not only operates low-emission vehicles but also buys carbon credits that offset the pollution of two standard cabs for every one of their taxis.

No Envirocabs? Then try to choose another green company. But the next time you stick out your arm in a mad dash to make your next meeting, a new, greener generation of the taxicab might just stop for you instead of their gas-guzzling ancestors.

Read more articles from the "It’s Easy Being Green" series

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