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NYC 'Taxi of Tomorrow' program approved by state appeals court

By Bernard Vaughan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City's plan to create a uniform taxi fleet with cabs from Nissan Motor Co won approval from a state appeals court on Tuesday, which overturned a lower court ruling that had struck down the initiative.

The "Taxi of Tomorrow" initiative developed by the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission is "a legally appropriate response to the agency's statutory obligation to produce a 21st century taxicab consistent with the broad interests ... that the agency is charged with protecting," Justice David Saxe wrote for a 3-1 majority of the Manhattan-based appeals court.

In 2011, Nissan won a 10-year contract worth $1 billion to provide its Nissan NV200 cabs, a fuel-efficient minivan with the potential to convert to full electric power. The plan was challenged by Evgeny Freidman, a major city fleet operator, and the Greater New York Taxi Association, which claimed the commission could not force taxi operators to buy specific vehicles.

Last October, a state supreme court justice ruled that the TLC had overstepped its authority. [ID: nL1N0HY28R]

Saxe concluded that the city's charter granted the TLC "far-reaching control," and said the agency "carried out its assigned mission with an exacting process lasting from 2007 to 2011 ... to ensure a final decision that would best satisfy taxi passengers, owners, and drivers, as well as the general public."

The appeals court also said concerns about the NV200 being a "non-hybrid, non-handicap-accessible vehicle" do not justify rejecting the TLC decision, noting that the NV200 can be modified.

"We are still reviewing the ruling and its implications, especially in view of the potential for further appeal," TLC commissioner Meera Joshi said in a statement. "Certainly, we are gratified by this latest decision upholding the TLC’s regulatory authority."

Nissan spokesman Travis Parman said the Japanese company is pleased with the decision.

Lawyers for the taxi association were not immediately available for comment. A representative for the New York City Law Department was also not immediately available for comment. When the contract was awarded, Nissan officials said they expected to provide as many as 26,000 vehicles to the city's taxi fleet over the deal's lifetime.

(Reporting by Bernard Vaughan; Editing by Jonathan Stempel, Gunna Dickson and David Gregorio)

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