NYC gets hit with lawsuit over "unsafe" hybrid taxis

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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