Nissan taxi rolls even after judge blocks NYC 'tomorrow' plan

Photo credit: BLOOMBERG

NEW YORK -- A New York judge's decision to block Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plan for a uniform fleet of van-like yellow cabs with sliding doors and skylight windows won't stop them from cruising city streets.

While they may not be the only cabs allowed, as Bloomberg wants under his Taxi of Tomorrow initiative, Nissan Motor Co.'s taxi, costing almost $30,000, will still be sold to individuals and fleet owners who choose to buy them.

The company is manufacturing them in Mexico, with some modified for wheelchair users in Indiana.

"We just got them about three days ago, and we've sold five to individual operators," said car dealer Howard Koeppel, who's invested more than $1 million in a Queens-based garage for the Nissan taxis and other vehicles. "They're good cars."

Supreme Court Justice Shlomo Hagler ruled this week that the city exceeded its authority in requiring that cab operators have no choice except to buy a remodeled taxi version of Nissan's NV200 van.

Unless the Bloomberg administration can win an appeal before Dec. 31, when the mayor leaves office, the effort to standardize a fleet of 15,237 cabs with the Nissan-built vans will die. The cars are due to hit the streets Oct. 28.

'Safest taxicab'

"Aside from its being by far the safest taxicab ever designed, the NV200 has superior leg room, a panoramic roof and a host of other comforts and amenities," said Taxi and Limousine Commission Chairman David Yassky.

The model sells for a top price of $29,700, fully equipped.

Bhairavi Desai, spokeswoman and organizer of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, a drivers' union, praised the Bloomberg program, saying it "allows us to use our collective purchasing power to lower the sales costs and have an unprecedented 150,000-mile warranty."

The lawsuit challenging the Taxi of Tomorrow, she said, was filed by "deep-pocketed companies that charge high-interest car loans to drivers."

The suit was brought by the Greater New York Taxi Association, a group of medallion owners.

Warren Trosky, 57, a third-generation owner of J&I Maintenance Corp., a Brooklyn-based fleet of 65 cabs, said government regulation should be limited to safety issues and such details as interior leg room and window capacity, not what model to buy.

Free enterprise

"It's the United States of America," said Trosky, who wasn't involved in the lawsuit.

"Doesn't sound like free enterprise, does it?" New York's top lawyer, Michael Cardozo, said in a statement Tuesday that the city would appeal.

The statement didn't say whether the city may be liable to Nissan for its inability to make good on its promised exclusive contract.

Kate Ahlers, a spokesman for Cardozo, declined to comment.

"We are evaluating the options we have for the next steps, and we're also continuing to plan to put the vehicles into service later this month," said Brian Brockman, a Nissan spokesman.

Both major-party candidates who want to succeed Bloomberg support taxi fleet owners' opposition to the mayor's plan and say they wouldn't pursue an appeal. The mayor, who is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, is barred from seeking a fourth term.

Candidates opposed

Democrat Bill de Blasio, 52, who's received more than $200,000 in taxi-industry donations, has said he opposes the plan because not all cabs would be wheelchair accessible.

The Bloomberg plan calls for about 2,000 of them to be fitted for disabled riders.

Additionally, de Blasio said in a letter to the taxi commission last year that the city selected "a bid that did not contain a plan to create jobs in New York City despite the large contract awarded to the company."

De Blasio is evaluating the ruling, said his spokesman, Dan Levitan.

The vehicles are fitted with video screens and GPS devices by two companies in Queens, said Allan Fromberg, spokesman for the TLC, which regulates the industry.

Republican Joseph Lhota, 59, has cited "environmental and business concerns" because Bloomberg's plan would add 2,000 yellow cabs as well as 15,000 green-colored liveries to service passengers in underserved areas of northern Manhattan and the four other boroughs.

Another suit

Bloomberg's outer-borough plan won approval in June when the state's Court of Appeals declared it constitutional.

Since August, apple-green sedans have been stopping for street-hailing passengers where yellow-cab service had been hard to find.

The approved increase in the fleet also meant that the future administration will be benefit from more than $1 billion in revenue from the sales of new medallions, or taxi-operating licenses, which trade for about $1 million each.

The Taxi of Tomorrow program is also facing litigation in federal court.

Disabled people and advocates for the handicapped sued the commission in federal court in Manhattan in January 2011, seeking to force the city to make its entire taxi fleet wheelchair accessible.

U.S. District Judge George B. Daniels ruled in December 2011 that the commission subjects disabled people who use wheelchairs and scooters to discrimination, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in New York overturned Daniels' ruling in June 2012 and found that the act doesn't obligate the commission to require taxi owners to provide access for disabled people.

The plaintiffs in August asked Daniels to allow it to amend its lawsuit to declare that the NV200 is a van and therefore must be accessible.

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