Jackrabbit starts and sudden stops are a hallmark of New York City taxicabs, but they aren’t very fuel-efficient.

New York mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is fighting to replace the Crown Victorias in the city’s taxi fleet with relatively fuel-efficient hybrid cars, as my colleague William Neuman has reported.

Here’s another idea for saving gas: requiring taxi drivers to learn how to drive smarter. At the moment, there seems to be no focus on fuel-efficient driving (sometimes called hypermiling) in taxi school, except insofar as it overlaps with defensive driving and passenger-relations training.

“There is no training specific to that,” said Allan Fromberg, a spokesman for the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, a regulatory body, referring to hypermiling. He emphasized that hybrids would aid fuel-efficiency.

Hypermilers could find plenty of savings, however. In New York, taxis often screech down side streets, even when a red light looms ahead — then they slam on the brakes to stop for the light, a tactic that can reduce fuel economy as much as 5 percent in town, according to CleanMPG.com, a hypermiling Web site.

As a general rule, the less abrupt braking you do, the more gas you save, according to CleanMPG. By zooming down the streets and then stopping, taxis are simply wasting the gas they used to accelerate — not to mention being unsafe.

Similarly, after the traffic light turns from red to green, New York taxis often floor the accelerator and race off — another waste of fuel relative to accelerating more slowly (and money out of the pocket of the driver, who pays for the gas).

Andrew Vollo, who is the director of a taxi-driver training institute at La Guardia Community College, said that defensive driving courses overlap with fuel-efficiency courses. “If you’re going to be driving with a heavy foot like that, you’re going to be driving dangerously,” he said.

He noted, however, that competition among taxi drivers has recently become fiercer, so the heavy-foot syndrome may “increase even more” as they battle for fares.

Possibly the taxis’ most irritating tendency, because it affects other drivers as well, is the habit of crowding into intersections when the light is about to turn red. This inconveniences other drivers, who cannot enter the intersection when the cross-traffic is blocking it, increasing everybody’s idling time and wasting more gas.

In July, David Paterson, the governor of New York, signed a law that raises fines from $90 to $115 for “blocking the box” in New York City.

In my five months in New York, I have never seen anybody ticketed for it.


Category: Blog, New York City

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