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November 11, 2005

USA: Hybrids join Big Apple taxi fleet

Hybrid taxis that get double the fuel economy of traditional cabs and generate far less pollution have begun appearing in small numbers on New York's streets.

Hybrid taxis that get double the fuel economy of traditional cabs and generate far less pollution have begun appearing in small numbers on New York’s streets.

According to the Associated Press (AP), environmentalists, city officials and Ford chairman Bill Ford posed with the owner of the first hybrid cabs on top of a Manhattan car showroom on Thursday to belatedly celebrate last week’s quiet debut of the vehicles.

For now, AP said, there are only six of the bright yellow Ford Escapes in the city’s vast taxi fleet, but owner Gene Freidman said he planned to have 18 on the street by Thanksgiving (24 November).

The small petrol-electric SUVs generally emit no exhaust when they are moving slower than 25 mph, but passengers will notice some differences, the report said.

The Escape has less leg room and a narrower back seat bench than the big [petrol V8-powered] Ford Crown Victoria sedans that make up the bulk of the city’s fleet. AP noted that some cabbies may also balk at the lack of a security barrier between the front and back seats – there wasn’t enough room to include the partitions.

Drivers, however, might be willing to risk lessened security in exchange for lower fuel costs, the report said.

Cabbie Gennadiy Abramov, on hand for Thursday’s rollout, told The Associated Press he has saved an average of US$20 per shift since he started driving a hybrid.

Over time, those savings could mean thousands of extra dollars per year for the Big Apple’s cabbies, most of whom pay for petrol out of their own pockets, AP added.

Ultimately, though, whether or not the vehicles proliferate, may depend most on whether owners of the city’s cab fleets can find some long-run financial benefit to justify their extra cost.

Freidman, who operates a fleet of about 650 cabs, reportedly said he only got interested after the city offered a chance to buy new taxi medallions [operating permits] for alternative-fuel vehicles at a deep discount.

Under the deal, Freidman and two business partners purchased 18 of the licences at a savings of about $170,000 each – more than enough to offset the extra $5,000 to $6,000 cost of buying a hybrid, The Associated Press said.

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