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COMMISSIONER'S COLUMN

December 2008

From left to right are event hosts Neomi, Zion and Meir Yakuel, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, City attorney Scott Pasternack, TLC Commissioner/Chairman Mathew Daus, and Congressman Jerrold Nadler.
From left to right are event hosts Neomi, Zion and Meir Yakuel, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, City attorney Scott Pasternack, TLC Commissioner/Chairman Mathew Daus, and Congressman Jerrold Nadler.

By the time you read this, I think news of Mayor Bloomberg’s new approach to the challenge of enhancing the taxicab industry’s level of environmental responsibility will have reached virtually every corner of the TLC’s regulated industries.  As most in the industry know by now, a Federal Court granted a preliminary injunction with respect to the mandate that all taxicabs must achieve a minimum fuel efficiency rating of 25 miles per gallon.  The Mayor’s plan responds to this temporary legal setback. 

Here are the basics of the plan that the Mayor has asked the TLC to implement.  Either before or at the time of each vehicle’s scheduled retirement, owners have the opportunity to voluntarily choose whichever vehicles they wish to replace their cabs with, so long as they meet the TLC’s vehicle specifications set forth in its regulations.  For those who lease their vehicles and/or medallions to drivers by the shift, the maximum allowed “lease cap” would increase by about $3 per shift for the leasing of a hybrid vehicle -- and would decrease by about $12 per shift for the lease of a non-hybrid.  This proposal will be subject to a public hearing and vote by our Board of Commissioners at an upcoming meeting. 

The additional $2,000 the new lease cap would provide to owners (per vehicle) is designed to reimburse them for the cost differential that fleet owners point to for the purchase of hybrids, neutralizing expenses for this very cost-conscious segment of the industry.  As the drivers of hybrid vehicles save an average $15 per shift on the cost of fuel, the $3 per shift decrease would bring their approximate savings to about $12.  This would only amount to around a 25 cent hourly decrease while still earning well above a living wage – of anywhere between $19 and $21 per hour.  By reducing the lease cap for non-hybrid vehicles by approximately $12, owners will hopefully replace such vehicles sooner rather than later.  While it is a now-established fact that the vast majority of drivers prefer to work with hybrids, by effectively leveling the playing field, drivers will no longer be penalized if a hybrid is not available to them, while those lucky enough to lease a hybrid will continue to benefit even further from falling gas prices.

While I am proud to report that we have 1,565 hybrid taxicabs on the road…..more than any other city in the nation…..we are far from the only city making use of this crucial technology.  Cities such as San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Boston and many others have their own plans to green their fleets, and we have been in touch with them and other cities in the US, Canada and Europe, to work on shared environmental goals that assist our global community.  While the Mayor’s new plan speaks to a certain inevitability of clean air technology, it also leaves medallion owners free to make their own choices, while ensuring all drivers earn near equal pay.

Of course, the logical place to announce this proposed plan was a taxi garage….where the rubber meets the road….and there was no better place we could have chosen for the announcement than Yakuel Taxi, where hosts Zion Yakuel, his very gracious wife Neomi, and son Meier showed us a living and breathing example of where the taxi industry is and should be.  Their business space is immaculate, and drivers and visitors alike were truly comfortable in this “green garage” – between the significant number of hybrids that are located in it and the hundreds of plants hanging from the ceiling helping to provide us with plenty of oxygen.  I am so proud of medallion owners like the Yakuel family, who set such a good example for other owners in terms of environmental consciousness and customer service for its drivers and employees – both of which also happen to make good business sense.

In addition to announcing the lease cap rules, Mayor Bloomberg also set forth a legislative strategy to address the inequities of the federal laws.  Mayor Bloomberg and I were also joined by Congressman Jerrold Nadler, a senior member of the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, who committed to introduce legislation in Congress to attempt to fix the federal law that prevents cities from doing precisely what it was created to accomplish – clean the air, and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. 

In sum, the Mayor and the TLC will be fighting for cleaner taxicabs on both legislative and regulatory fronts, and will not give up!


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