The Ever-Elusive, Energy-Efficient New York City Taxi

By John Martin

Although I prefer riding the train to get around town, sometimes taking a cab isn’t a bad option. If I’m with a group of people, or I’m running late, taking a taxi sometimes just makes sense. As a New Yorker, I understand the value of having cabs filling our streets, but I also recognize the damage they’re doing to our air. With car companies finally producing fuel-efficient cars in large numbers, I decided to look into what, if anything, is being done to clean up the New York City taxi fleet.

Back in February, the Supreme Court refused to allow a city plan that would require cab owners to replace old gas-guzzling cabs with more fuel-efficient models. The 2007 law would have mandated all taxis operating in New York run at an average of 30 mpg, and would have required all 13,000 of the city’s cabs to be replaced with hybrids by 2012.

Not to be deterred, Senator Gillibrand and Congressman Nadler soon thereafter introduced the “Green Taxis Act,” a federal law that would allow cities to mandate use of more fuel-efficient taxis. So far, the mayors of Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles have all come out in favor of this act, but it’s not likely this support will be enough to get it through Congress.

Now it’s not clear when, if ever, New York will get cleaner taxis. Our most popular cab model—the gas-guzzling, 12 mpg Crown Victoria—is now in its final year of production. That’s the good news. The not-so-great news is that the city will soon unveil a universal taxi to replace the 16 models currently on the road beginning in 2014. Although the three models under consideration have their advantages (including the ability to transport wheelchair-bound passengers), fuel economy isn’t one of them. The Ford Transit Connect gets only 21 mpg in city driving. The two others don’t figure to be much better.

With the average New York taxi currently getting 22 mpg (even after you factor in all those Crown Vics), and no viable plans to make our fleet more efficient on the horizon, it looks like city taxis will be burning lots of gas for the foreseeable future. Looks like the subway will continue to be my preferred mode of transportation for a long, long time.