Taxi Perks in Dallas Pass 5th Circuit Scrutiny

     DALLAS (CN) – Dallas can give natural gas-powered taxi cabs head-of-the-line privileges when picking up passengers at the city’s airport, the 5th Circuit ruled.
     The Thursday decision puts a nail in the 2010 complaint filed by the Association of Taxicab Operators USA. That group had claimed that the Clean Air Act says “no state or any political subdivision thereof shall adopt or attempt to enforce any standard relating to the control of emissions from new motor vehicles or new motor vehicle engines subject to this part.”
     U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade sided with the city in March, however, and issued it summary judgment. He said state law allows cities to regulate taxis, and that the Dallas charter authorizes the regulation of taxis and the granting of franchises.
     The Clean Air Act meanwhile preserves state and local authority over the use and operation of vehicles, according to the ruling.
     A three-judge panel with the New Orleans-based federal appeals court affirmed Thursday that there was no pre-emption issue and that the incentives the law offers do not constitute a forced standard to which cabbies must adhere.
     “We agree with the district court in concluding that there is no language in Ordinance 27831 creating a standard that is enforceable to convert cabs from gasoline to CNG power,” Judge Stephen Higginson wrote for the panel. “It is a compelling offer, not a compelling restraint. All Dallas may ‘enforce’ under the law is compliance with the head-of-the-line privilege and the procedure for verifying dedicated CNG vehicles.”
     Offering an incentive furthermore does not force taxi drivers to switch to CNG-powered vehicles, the judges found, undermining the claim that Dallas is indirectly forcing a new standard that the CAA could pre-empt.
     Only 200 CNG-powered taxis operate in Dallas out of the 2,800 total taxis in the area, according to the ruling.
     “By those numbers, even if CNG cabs were to gain exclusive command of the Love Field route by virtue of Ordinance 27831, they would comprise, at most, seven percent of the Dallas fleet,” Higginson wrote. “As Dallas further highlights, gasoline cab drivers enjoy some competitive advantages over CNG cab counterparts, such as the right to collect a surcharge from customers when gasoline rises above $3.01 per gallon. That Ordinance 27831 may have its intended effect and substitute CNG cabs for traditional cabs at Love Field does not show that Dallas cab drivers face ‘such acute, albeit indirect, economic effects … as to force’ them to switch vehicles.”

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