Another court decision puts Bloomberg’s taxi legacy in doubt

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Taxi of Tomorrow (via taxioftomorrow.com)
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Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his taxi commissioner, David Yassky, may have set out on an ambitious agenda to overhaul New York City's dysfunctionally organized taxi and limousine fleet, but an unfavorable court decision last night cast doubt on their ability to achieve that agenda by the end of this year, when both Bloomberg's and (presumably) Yassky's terms end.

Last night, State Supreme Court Justice Peter Moulton declared the rules allowing for a "Taxi of Tomorrow" to be "null, void and unenforceable."

The Taxi of Tomorrow is the product of the administration's desire to create one iconic taxi for the streets of New York City. After entertaining multiple proposals, it contracted with Nissan to do so. The new taxi was to have more legroom for passengers, passenger-controlled reading lights, a transparent panel on the rooftop for sksyscraper viewing, passenger airbags and ergonomic seats for drivers.

But the program encountered lots of opposition from the industry, as well as from envorinmentalists upset that the original Taxi of Tomorrow program would have taken almost all hybrid taxis off the street, and accessibility advocates.

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Lawsuits followed, including the one filed by the Committee for Taxi Safety that was decided upon yesterday.

The petitioners, leasing agents managing more than 2,000 of the city's taxis, argued that the Taxi of Tomorrow violated a law requiring that the city allow at least one hybrid model for use as a taxi.

The judge agreed, and noted that the city had effectively "all but conceded" that point.

Indeed in March, in an effort to forestall just this type of court decision, the city proposed new rules allowing drivers to continue to use hybrid taxis until Nissan came out with a Taxi of Tomorrow hybrid of its own. 

(About half the city's 13,000-plus taxis are now hybrid.)

But those were merely proposed rules, and the judge argued that "the court must make a decision based on the [Taxi of Tomorrow] rules that exist, not the rules that may come into existence."

You can read the whole decision here.

"We are gratified by Judge Moulton's decision," said David Pollack, the executive director of the Committee for Taxi Safety, in a statement that didn't directly address the substance of the judge's ruling. "We have always maintained that we need taxis that can withstand New York City roadways and traffic."

The city's options right now are fairly limited. It could, perhaps, convince the Taxi and Limousine Commission to repass an amended version of the Taxi of Tomorrow rules, one that includes provisions for hybrid vehicles, thereby forcing the Committee for Taxi Safety to refile a version of its suit, and go from there.

In a statement, Yassky said, optimistically, "The TLC is acting immediately to ensure that taxi owners will continue to have the option to purchase a hybrid vehicle, even once the ToT hits the road in October. This ruling will not delay the ToT's implementation."

That implementation was supposed to begin on Halloween.

The Taxi of Tomorrow program is but one Bloomberg administration taxi initiative that has stalled out thanks, in part, to industry intransigence.

Sometime in the next couple of months, an appeals court is expected to rule on the mayor's borough taxi plan, which was supposed to create a fleet of lime-green taxis for the outer boroughs, where yellow taxi service is scarce.

And then there's the administration's bid to allow taxi apps, which enable smartphone users to hail taxis by tapping their smartphones. That, too, is tied up in court.