- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 10, 2005

NEW YORK (AP) — Hybrid taxis that get double the gas mileage of traditional cabs while generating far less pollution have begun rolling in small numbers on New York’s streets.

Delighted environmentalists, city officials and the chairman of Ford Motor Co. posed with the owner of the first hybrid cabs atop a Manhattan auto showroom yesterday to belatedly celebrate last week’s quiet debut of the vehicles.

For now, there are only six of the bright yellow Ford Escapes in the city’s fleet of more than 12,000 taxis, but owner Gene Freidman said he planned to have 18 on the street by Thanksgiving.

City Council member David Yassky, who pushed for the legislation authorizing the use of the vehicles as cabs, predicted that thousands more will follow.

“I’m determined that in five years, every cab on the streets of New York will be a hybrid,” Mr. Yassky said.

The small SUVs run on a combination of gas and electricity and generally emit no exhaust when they are moving slower than 25 mph. They drive the same as regular cabs and never have to be recharged, but passengers will notice some differences.

The Escape has less leg room and a narrower backseat bench than the big Ford Crown Victorias that make up the bulk of the city’s fleet. There also wasn’t enough room to include a security barrier between the front and back seats.

Drivers, however, might be willing to risk lessened security in exchange for gasoline savings that could amount to thousands of dollars a year.

Cabbie Gennadiy Abramov said he has saved an average of $20 per shift since he started driving a hybrid.

Mr. Abramov said he hasn’t heard any complaints about the smaller space.

“The customers want all taxis to be hybrids,” he said.

Whether the vehicles proliferate, however, may depend most on whether owners of the city’s cab fleets find a long-term financial benefit to justify their extra cost.

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

He and two business partners purchased 18 of the licenses 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.

New York’s Taxi and Limousine Commission later had second thoughts about the deal and tried to call it off. A court battle ensued. The City Council intervened and passed a law this past summer that essentially ordered the commission to approve the use of hybrids as cabs.

Future hybrid purchasers won’t get a similar incentive, but Mr. Freidman said he thought owners would buy them anyway.

“It’s a no-brainer. The drivers love them,” he said. “I didn’t start out green, but I’m green now.”

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