The Taxi and Limousine Commission voted 7-1 Thursday to also allow new hybrids meeting certain minimum size requirements to be part of the city's proposed "Taxi Of Tomorrow" fleet.
Approval for the Nissan NV200, the vehicle previously chosen by the city as the uniform vehicle for the fleet, hit a speed bump in state supreme court last month. A judge ruled that the city's plan is in violation of a law that requires there to be a hybrid option.
TLC officials said Thursday's vote now complies with the court ruling by allowing hybrid alternatives. But including only three models currently on the market qualify, like the Toyota Prius V and the $40,000 Toyota Highlander.
"Starting in October, taxi owners will be able to buy either this, the Taxi Of Tomorrow vehicle or a hybrid option, as long as the hybrid is reasonably spacious so that its got enough room to be a taxi," said TLC Commissioner David Yassky.
"What they're trying to do right now is do an end run. What they're trying to do right now is to create a limited option that the only hybrids available will be so expensive that no one will be able to afford to put them on the street," said New York Taxi Association Executive Director Ethan Gerber. "These are not viable options for a taxi industry. They’re unaffordable vehicles."
"The commission is attempting to discourage the use of hybrids as taxis in furtherance of its misguided Taxi Of Tomorrow project," said David Pollack of the Committee for Taxi Safety.
The "Taxi Of Tomorrow" also faces another court challenge from advocates for the disabled who say the taxi should have to be handicap accessible.
"There seems to be this big invisible barrier for the largest minority of New York, which would be people with disabilities," said a disabled rights advocate.
Officials said the NV200 will eventually come in hybrid and accessible models, and they said this car is not only safer, with features like a retractable step and a soft factory-installed partition, but also more comfortable with more legroom.
Some of the backseat amenities include a plug-in for electronic devices, a climate control system that is totally separate from the front seat, cup holders right on the doors, as well as an intercom system that allows passengers to communicate with the driver without having to yell.
Opponents were not sold and will likely continue their court challenge.
"We will probably be back before the same judge by the end of the week," Gerber said.
City officials remain confident the Taxi Of Tomorrow will hit the streets in October.