• Sep 9th 2008 at 2:40PM
  • 18
While the shift to hybrid taxis in New York City has been moving forward for a while now, not everyone thinks that the yellow cabs should be cleaner just yet. Who, you ask? Well, the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade (MTBOT), for one, and they filed a complaint in United States District Court, Southern District of New York, yesterday urging an immediate halt to the city's mandate to introduce hybrids to the fleet. The cleaner cab mandate is to go into effect Oct. 1, and the MTBOT is waiting for a response from the City and the court.

The issue, according to MTBOT, is that the hybrids used as taxis in NYC are not safe for passengers and drivers because they were not built for commercial taxi use - unlike the long-serving Crown Vic, which the author of the MTBOT's report, C. Bruce Gambardella, called "the safest taxicab on the road." Hybrids like the Ford Escape hybrid pictured above are unsafe as cabs because the required partitions between the passenger and driver areas "were found to compromise their safety systems by blocking side-curtain airbags from deploying; become easily dislodged in accidents; restrict drivers from safely distancing themselves from front airbags; and diminish backseat legroom so severely -- as much as 10 inches less than in a stretch Ford Crown Victoria -- that even belted passengers will hit their faces on the hard unyielding surface of the partitions in an accident," the MTBOT said in a statement.

Let's remind ourselves of two facts: first, at the beginning of this year, we heard that 95 percent of NYC cabbies were happy with their Crown Vics and didn't look forward to the shift to hybrids. Second, the Crown Vic gets like 15 mpg. WIth high gas prices and a growing concern about the environment, can both of these things continue to be true?

[Source: Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade]


NYC Hybrid Taxis Unfit and Unsafe, Says Report

Taxi Industry Demands Ford, Nissan, GM and Other Automakers Prove Crashworthiness of Hybrid Taxis
Danger to Public Safety Cited in Lawsuit Against City

NEW YORK, Sept. 9 /PRNewswire/ -- A new report by a well-known automotive engineer, who previously consulted for the City of New York and several major automakers, exposes the risks and dangers of riding in New York City's hybrid yellow taxicabs. The report is the result of several months of analysis and concludes that hybrid taxis are unsafe and incompatible with the rigorous demands of New York City taxicabs that operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Hybrids will start to replace the stretch Ford Crown Victoria, a purpose-built taxi, and other taxis on October 1, 2008 if a City mandate requiring that all new taxis have a minimum city rating of 25 mpg is not halted. Citing public endangerment, the city's largest taxi advocacy group urged a federal court on Monday to intervene.

According to the report's author, C. Bruce Gambardella, P.E., "from an engineering standpoint, vehicles have to be designed for the duty cycle they are likely to encounter and cannot feature modifications that will compromise their safety systems." Hybrids strike out on both counts, over and over again in virtually every category analyzed in the 43-page report.

The report concludes that hybrids are not designed to hold partitions, which are mandated by the Taxi and Limousine Commission ("TLC") to prevent drivers from being assaulted, robbed or killed. Partitions in hybrid taxis were found to compromise their safety systems by blocking side-curtain airbags from deploying; become easily dislodged in accidents; restrict drivers from safely distancing themselves from front airbags; and diminish backseat legroom so severely -- as much as 10 inches less than in a stretch Ford Crown Victoria -- that even belted passengers will hit their faces on the hard unyielding surface of the partitions in an accident. Mr. Gambardella took particular issue with the "L-shaped" partition, which features sharp edges, presents a dangerously confined driver space and places passengers at great risk for injury.

Mr. Gambardella, who is the first engineer in the country to analyze and compare safety in both hybrid and conventional taxicabs in New York City, argues that "due to the mandatory vehicle modifications, the TLC has, in effect, created its own vehicle design" and "as such, the TLC has an obligation to crash-test the modified vehicles or require that the automakers crash-test the vehicles as modified." He writes, "it is completely unknown whether these modified cars would pass federal crash tests." He also opined: "No automaker would put such an inadequately tested vehicle on the road, nor should the public or any federal regulatory agency stand for it."

Furthermore, the report asserts that the TLC either failed to read, or blatantly ignored, explicit warnings in all hybrid vehicle owners' manuals that expressly forbid modifications like partitions that could interfere with airbag deployment and other aspects of the safety systems. The report cites more than 75 separate manufacturers' warnings in 5 different hybrids authorized for taxi use by the TLC.

Mr. Gambardella calls the Crown Victoria the safest taxicab on the road. He cites its 25 years of experience as a taxi (6 years as a stretch model) and stresses that they are purpose-built for the police and taxi markets, anticipate partition installations and are built for heavy-duty 24/7 usage. (Fleet taxis average 85,000 - 100,000 miles per year.) In contrast, hybrids are designed for non-commercial, private use where the average driver clocks well under 20,000 miles per year. Hybrid taxis have little experience as 24/7 taxis.

The Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade ("MTBOT"), the fleet trade association that commissioned the report out of concern for passenger and driver safety, instructed its attorneys at Emery, Celli, Brinckerhoff and Abady LLP to send the report's key findings to several hybrid automakers. In a letter, the firm requests explicit automaker certification and supporting documentation demonstrating that hybrid taxis, outfitted with partitions, are safe for commercial taxi use in New York City. The TLC was also provided with the letter and key findings. MTBOT has received no responses to date.

Ron Sherman, President of MTBOT, stated, "The City's dangerously aggressive hybrid taxi mandate presents a public danger to our 240 million annual passengers and tens of thousands of taxi drivers, as this report makes clear. MTBOT has desperately tried to work with the TLC and the Bloomberg Administration on a taxi policy that improves the environment without compromising public safety, but to no avail. We were left with no choice but to seek the court's intervention to prevent the City from making a tragic mistake."

On Monday, September 8, 2008, MTBOT and other parties concerned that passenger and driver safety was being compromised, filed a complaint in the United States District Court, Southern District of New York, urging an immediate halt to the mandate. The lawsuit, which maintains that the City's mandate will cause irreparable harm to taxi passengers and drivers, argues, that the City's decision to mandate that all new taxis, as of October 1, 2008, have a city rating of 25 mpg or more is arbitrary and capricious because the City failed to follow its own long-standing procedures requiring safety testing and a pilot program prior to the mandate of new vehicles. The lawsuit also argues that the City's mandate is preempted by the federal Energy Policy and Conservation Act as well as the federal Clean Air Act. The suit asks for the October 1st mandate to be annulled. Emery, Celli, Brinckerhoff and Abady, LLP represents the plaintiffs.

MTBOT and the report's author C. Bruce Gambardella, P.E. plan to testify at the New York City Council Transportation Committee's oversight hearing, "Green Taxis: Are They Safe" on Wednesday, September 10th at 1 pm in City Hall. This is the Committee's second oversight hearing. The TLC refused to testify at the Council's June 3 2008 hearing, leaving many safety questions unanswered.

MTBOT is the country's largest taxi fleet association. It represents 27 yellow medallion taxi fleets in New York City and over 3,500 medallion taxicabs - approximately 25% of the taxi industry. MTBOT members have operated more than 30 different vehicles over several decades including minivans, Compressed Natural Gas vehicles and hybrids. MTBOT advocates on behalf of its members, its 14,000 drivers and the riding public.

C. Bruce Gambardella is a licensed Professional Engineer in New York, Michigan and Connecticut and has worked as an accident reconstruction expert full time since 1982. Clients have included the City of New York, Ford Motor Company, General Motors, NYC Transit Authority, the New York Attorney General's Office and numerous major insurance companies and private attorneys. He has inspected more than 3,000 vehicles and performed more than 1,300 detailed accident reconstructions.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 7 Years Ago
      It is an SUV, there really isnt a trunk, so how hard could it be to shove the backseat back some more? Even if you eliminate luggage space, Id imagine 99% of the rides are just people and maybe a couple bags, if someone really needs to get their family of 4 to the airport they just get a bigger cab.
      • 7 Years Ago
      AmcA, I second that motion. Transit will be great.

      kay, you can't just move the seat back because the floor isn't flat. It has to go up underand behind the seat to leave clearence for the suspension, drivetrain and fuel tank beneath. It's just not as easy as you think.

      Sebastian, "the Crown Vic gets like 15 mpg" maybe if driven as a taxi, but I get 20mpg city and 26 mpg hwy out of my 2003 Crown Vic, with the police interceptor pkg, no cruise control, and an LSD 3.27 rear end, not exactly tuned for mileage.

      I always thought a diesel crown vic would be the best for taxis and police. Jaguar makes a 2.7L twin turbo Diesel V6 for the XJ in Europe and I always thought it would be a perfect canidate for the vic. 321lb-ft of torque and 35mpgs, enough said.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Yeah, because what every taxi in every congested lane in every congested city needs is 321 lb-ft of torque....

        The problem here is the retrofitting to begin with. Vehicles aren't designed to be taxis or police cruisers, so the safety systems are compromised by the installation of the kits. Some of those retrofits can run upwards of $75,000; one would think perhaps someone would wisen up and actually build a taxi/police crusier that was designed and built specifically for those purposes.

        Perhaps we'll see in the next 6 months :).
      • 7 Years Ago
      How long have hybrids been in service in NYC, San Francisco and other locations? I believe it's been since 2005 (at least for the Escape). Why are we just hearing about this issue now? Could it be that it's just a stalling point for cab companies that don't want to comply with the new NYC mandate? And don't give me the BS about the Escape not being rated for Taxi duty. It's been doing it now for 3 years and there would have been a media field day had it not been up to the task. (Like the one they had with the converted PT Cruisers).

      My wife has ridden in a NYC Escape Taxi (with luggage) and had no space issues and during her conversation with the driver he indicated that he loved driving his hybrid.

      Sure who wouldn't like to drive a big STRETCHED Crown Vic. until you have to pay for the gas (and pedestrians and others pay for the poor air quality).
      • 7 Years Ago
      Check out the stretched GM SUV hybrid now being driven in Baltimore.

      Fact is that NONE of the basic vehicles were EVER designed as taxi cabs. They ALL get modified and systems get comprimised.

      We built a strong hybrid here in Detroit and nobody wants to use them. There are Cadillacs, GMCs, Chevys, and the same transmission coming in the Durango and Aspen.

      Yes they are expensive. So hire a P.E. to say they are dangerous.

      I will remember this guy and Ralph Nader as I drive around in my Escalade hybrid or my 1966 Corvair.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Has anyone test driven one of these things? They have VERY little back seat room. I can't imagine them being used for cabs.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Those dividers make the back of even a Crown Vic kinda tight. I haven't been in an Escape cab. But the back seat of the Escape is kinda small to begin with, and I imagine it'd be all but uninhabitable with a divider.

      Oughta let the drivers choose whether they want 'em. They're for driver safety anyway. At least that's why they're required here in Chicago.

      BUT THE REAL POINT IS: the Ford Transit is going to be the best cab ever.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Ahhh, the Safety Nannies vs. the Environment Nannies! Nothing more entertaining than a good "girl fight"! Pass the popcorn...
      • 7 Years Ago
      The Escape cabs are *loads* more comfortable than the Crown Vics. More legroom, bigger windows, smaller driveline hump, and none of that corkscrewing-like-a-dinghy live-axle ride.

      Moreover, every NYC cabbie I've talked to would rather drive an Escape or Sienna than a Vic. MTBOT represents the interests of company owners who like the Vic's cheap-as-dirt purchase price and the fact that their mechanics already know how to work on them.
      • 7 Years Ago
      You know, to read the headline and in fact most of the article, you'd get the impression that the problem is with the fact that they're hybrids. This doesn't seem to have anything to do with the "hybrid-ness" of the vehicle's drivetrain, but rather the layout of the interior. Yet they keep referring to the problem cars as "the hybrids", as if it's the drivetrain's fault and no hybrid could possibly be fit for this use. It's almost sensationalizing...
      • 7 Years Ago
      I bet Ford is surprised that the Vic was built as a commercial vehicle. The features of the Vic that are for Police/Taxi markets have nothing to do with the underlying safety systems of the car.
      • 7 Years Ago
      The problem here is the retrofitting to begin with. Vehicles aren't designed to be taxis or police cruisers, so the safety systems are compromised by the installation of the kits. Some of those retrofits can run upwards of $75,000; one would think perhaps someone would wisen up and actually build a taxi/police crusier that was designed and built specifically for those purposes.
      Someone should really build one of those. It should have body on frame construction, so the car doesn't get totalled by any ding in a parking lot. It should have a high-torque understressed motor, with a beefy cooling system, to deal with the long idle times fleet vehicles deal with on a daily basis, and enough get up and go to catch speeder on the freeway.

      Someone will need to design a suspension system that can stand up to ginormous potholes and curb jumping, maybe a solid rear axle and RWD, so alignments aren't done on a daily basis, and you aren't replacing half-shafts every Tuesday. It should have an enormous parts inventory, shared with millions of other cars on the road, so mechanics don't have to hunt down exotic parts in far away lands that are only applicable to current model year cars.

      It should have a large passenger compartment, that can hold 5 passengers easily, and a comfortable ride, so the driver, who works in the car, doesn't get fatigued after a 12 hour shift in his office. It should also have a cavernous cargo compartment, let's call this thing a "trunk", that will hold all the luggage of those 5 people, or all the gear a Police Officer might need at the scene of an accident or crime.

      Someone really needs to build this car. I bet the first company to build a car like this will capture 85% of the fleet market for sedans. Any company that builds a car like this will be able to claim a great victory, and can wear their achievement over other companies like a crown. It would be a grand mark of distinction.

      If only someone would build a car like that. Naaah.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I'd say those are relevant concerns and the impact issue i quite important. Maybe it is time to develop an new hybrid cab? The UK has dedicated cab manufacturers after all ...
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