(Adds detail from news conference)
By Edith Honan
NEW YORK, May 22 (Reuters) - New York City’s famed yellow taxi cabs will go green within five years under a plan that could serve as a model for other large cities, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced on Tuesday.
He said 1,000 hybrid taxis — powered by gasoline and electricity — would be introduced by October 2008, and that hybrids would gradually replace the rest of the city’s 13,000 taxi cabs by 2012.
New York already has 375 hybrid taxis on the road, more than any other U.S. city, Bloomberg said.
“It will be the largest, cleanest fleet of taxis anywhere on the planet,” Bloomberg said.
“And because taxis are so heavily used, the new standard will have the equivalent effect of removing 30,000 individually-owned gas-powered vehicles from our streets.”
Hybrid vehicles are powered by a combination of gasoline and electricity, and they emit less exhaust and have better gas mileage than other vehicles. The plan, which is based on new mileage and emission standards for cabs, will reduce the carbon emissions of New York City’s fleet by 50 percent during the next decade, Bloomberg said.
While hybrid cars are generally more expensive, Bloomberg said the plan would save cab drivers more than $10,000 per year in gasoline and other expenses.
The cab initiative is part of a larger push by Bloomberg to make New York a more environmentally friendly city. Earlier this year, he pledged a 30 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030.
“New Yorkers are exposed to some of the dirtiest air in the nation,” Louise Vetter, president of the American Lung Association of the City of New York, told the news conference.
“Putting more clean cabs on New York City streets is an important step in our fight to improve air quality, especially for the 1 million asthmatics in our city,” she said.
Taxi drivers, too, showed their support for the plan.
“I think that anyone who lives, works in this city should support the plan,” said Fernando Mateo, spokesman for the New York Federation of Taxi Drivers. He added, though, that the program would have to be expanded to include livery cabs, which provide regulated for-hire car service.
While people in Manhattan rely heavily on taxi cabs, livery cabs are far more common in poorer areas of the city, including the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens.
But criticism for the plan came from Edith Prentiss of the Taxis for All Campaign, an organization of handicapped New Yorkers, who said it was ridiculous that New York would continue to put cabs on the streets of New York that are inaccessible to handicapped passengers.
Prentiss, who uses a wheelchair, said hybrid taxis would not have lifts and were not large enough to fit a wheelchair.