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Nickels calls for switch to hybrid cabs

SEATTLE -- The mayor wants to transform the city's gas-guzzling taxis into eco-friendly rides. But some taxi drivers say going green will cost them too much green.

Under the Mayor Greg Nickels' climate-friendly cab plan, drivers will have to trade in their cabs for a $21,000 hybrid counterpart. That number isn't sitting so well with the city's cab drivers.

"It's a huge difference," said driver Mangit Singh. "We can buy this car at a police auction for five grand, six grand."

And, drivers argue, hybrids cost an extra $2,000 per year to insure. The mayor is proposing special cab financing, but drivers say that won't do.

"We don't need financing. We need a subsidized program that will help us lower our payment on the loan," Singh said.

The mayor isn't offering to increase taxi rates or to offset the hybrid purchase price, but says going green will pay over time.

He says the switch could save the driver roughly $10,000 in gas over the life of a cab, and help save the environment for generations to come.

A regular taxi gets 18 miles per gallon while a Hybrid Prius taxi gets 44 miles.

"We're not saying that it has to be a Prius," the mayor said. "We're are saying that it has to have at least 30 miles per gallon to reduce the impact on greenhouse gas emissions."

So far this year, it's estimated that King County has produced 3.6 million tons of carbon emissions. At its height, new taxi regulations would reduce that number by 18,000. It's not a huge reduction, but the mayor says it's a start.

"It just doesn't matter if our cabs are orange, yellow or grey. We think they should all be green," he said.

As a part of his plan, the mayor wants to put more than 300 additional taxis to work on Seattle's streets and also regulate how much owners can charge to lease their cabs to other drivers.

The measure is headed to the City Council.

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