Boston's cabbies are a crabby crew even on the best of days, but they're especially ticked off lately. The police department's hackney division, which deals with all things taxi, has decreed that all cab drivers and operators must convert their fleets to hybrids by 2015. This has, according to the Boston Metro, caused a "measure of frustration and anger among city cabbies."
Taxi drivers are hacked about the financial ramifications of the rule. Most drive Crown Vics that can be had used for $6,000 to $7,500, while a new Prius from Boston auto dealer giant Herb Chambers goes for $24,585. That's a lot of scratch for a cab driver who, thanks to out-of-control gas prices, is already having trouble making ends meet. It doesn't help that the eco-friendlier cars cost more to insure, have tiny trunks and, in the cabbies' opinions, aren't tough enough to do the job.
The city's got no sympathy for 'em.
"Requiring taxicabs to go hybrid is an essential step in not only improving air quality, but also improving the quality of our taxi fleet," said Boston Mayor Tom Menino (known locally as Mumbles Menino). "I am confident that these new regulations will greatly improve taxi service in Boston for all residents and our many guests." Because Boston cabs are required to retire after they turn 6, Menino anticipates that 50 percent of the city's cabs will be hybrid within two years.
The cabbies may not be happy, but they should keep in mind that they're not alone. In New York, home to more than 13,000 taxis, Mayor Bloomberg has decreed that every cab must be a hybrid by 2012. Taxi operators in San Francisco have three years to cut their emissions by 50 percent, and even officials in oil-drenched Dubai are testing hybrid cabs with an eye toward switching the city's entire fleet.
The Boston taxi trade also is wicked mad that that the hybrid mandate is one of several new rules being imposed by bureaucracy-loving Beantown. The city's told them to install credit card machines and wash their windows daily, barred them from wearing sweatpants and T-shirts on the job and prohibited them from yakking on the phone while carrying passengers.
Boston drivers complain they're feeling the pinch of higher fuel prices, despite a recent fare hike. "We're pleased that the drivers are going to receive a meter-rate increase, but we were looking for $3 on the mile," said union spokesperson Donna Blythe Shaw. Someone should remind Donna that Boston's cab rates are now higher than those in New York, San Francisco, Chicago or Miami.
Requiring the Boston cab fleet to go all-hybrid is a great idea, but not if it's going to financially wipe out the people who drive that fleet. Good job, Boston, but now you've got to pony up some money to help your cabbies make the transition.