It’s been about three and a half years since hybrid-powered taxis began working the mean streets of New York City, and not only have the cabs proved generally reliable, they’ve had zero failures of battery packs or other major components.

That’s the word from the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission, the agency charged with licensing, regulating, and performing regular safety and emissions testing of the City’s more than 13,000 yellow cabs.

The 18 Ford Escape compact SUVs that were the first hybrids put into TLC service are all still on the road, but due to be taken off the streets this summer. New York City taxis normally face mandatory retirement in three to five years, although added shift duty can shorten that. By the time those first Escapes taxi into the sunset, they’ll have put in enough extra shifts to take early retirement after just 3 ½ years, with as much as 350,000 miles on them and no major problems. Keep in mind, this is duty that can include 13,000 brake applications per shift, and as many as 750,000 total throttle applications and 225,000 rear door openings and closings during the life of a cab.

Other hybrids are also holding up well. The city’s fleet now numbers close to 2100, with representatives of most models currently available including the Nissan Altima, Chevrolet Malibu, Lexus RX, and Toyota Prius, Camry, and Highlander in addition to the Escape.

Combined, hybrids scored an average pass rate of 71% in the most recent TLC’s safety and emissions testing, significantly higher than the 57% pass rate for conventionally powered taxis. The tests are required of all city taxis and conducted three times a year, and the most common failure item for hybrid cabs was light bulbs.

The TLC’s data mirrors that of Consumer Reports 2008 Car Reliability Survey, where we’ve seen fewer reports of problems with some hybrids than with similar conventional models.

Hybrid taxis are mechanically identical to models offered to consumers, with the same powertrains. The only modifications are meters and other taxi lighting and gear. A TLC representative said part of the reason for hybrid cabs trouble-free record may be that cabbies drive them less aggressively than conventional cars.

The TLC recently added 13 diesel-powered Volkswagen Jettas to their “green” fleet, all of which have racked up 30-40,000 miles in their first months of service with no issues. Stay tuned.

—Jim Travers

Category: Uncategorized

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