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For Hillsborough officials, luxury doesn't come in a Prius

Ah, luxury.

To some of us, "luxury" means something Trumpian, fine wine and lobster tail, floor-to-ceiling views and thousand thread-count sheets, ostentatious and over the top, private and expensive and far, far, far above the masses.

(Okay, maybe for others of us, it's more like pulling on a fresh pair of clean white socks or downing a cold beer after the grass is mowed. To each his own.)

What luxury officially is not, however, is a Toyota Prius.

The trendy hybrid car will not be decreed an official luxury limousine in Hillsborough County, no matter how black or shiny or speedy it may be, no matter how well mannered and knowledgeable its suit-and-tie driver, no matter how tinted its windows or leather its seats.

At least, that's how a federal appeals court ruling went last week.

When we last saw Moshe Leib, owner of TB Limo Black Car Service in North Redington Beach, he was fighting the good fight to have his spiffy black Prius four-seater designated a limo in Hillsborough County.

Without that designation, Leib could use the 48-mpg car to drop off customers at the Tampa airport and other Hills­borough locations, but not to pick them up there.

The Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission rejected his bid to declare his Prius a limo because it didn't qualify as a "luxury" vehicle.

Then a federal judge said no, too.

And last week, an appeals court agreed: No limo for you, at least not a Prius.

Without the "luxury" requirement, the court said, why, "any old jalopy might be passed off as a limousine."

All of which leaves Leib sounding a little bummed.

"I love the car," he says. So do some customers, particularly since he can charge them less to ride in it. He reads to me from requests for upcoming rides: "Town Car, Town Car, Prius, Prius, Prius, Prius, Town Car," he says.

He came here from Germany 12 years ago, a former systems analyst who decided to try his hand at business. It turned out to be fun, this driving people around.

Some of his customers are octogenarians who take twice-yearly flights to visit grandchildren in far-flung places, carrying sturdy suitcases that look to be nearly as old as they are. Sometimes they hand him envelopes with the bills carefully counted out ahead of time, because that's how things were done, once. From the way he talks, you think maybe Leib likes these customers best of all.

But business, like a lot of business these days, is down by half, he says, and the Prius could have made a difference.

He ticks off his pro-Prius list: the obvious gas savings, the fact that 75 percent of his rides are only one or two passengers without need for stretch, the fact that other cities think differently on the subject of such cars-for-hire.

He wishes he could take his cause all the way to the Supreme Court, but that is a costly venture. For now he's thinking of getting a hybrid sport utility vehicle.

Makes you wonder, though.

Maybe our idea of luxury, like the size of our budgets and the sureness of our paychecks, might change in the current clime, might render those stretch Hummers and long black limos dead as the dinosaur. But this is America, land of luxury and deluxe.

Probably we shouldn't count on that anytime soon.

For Hillsborough officials, luxury doesn't come in a Prius 02/24/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 24, 2009 11:09pm]
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