By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City's program to create a nearly uniform taxi fleet with cabs from Nissan Motor Co will face a renewed challenge, after fleet operators opposing the "Taxi of Tomorrow" plan won permission to take their case to the state's highest court.
In a brief order on Thursday, the state appeals court in Manhattan that had in June authorized the plan said the operators may challenge that ruling before the New York State Court of Appeals in Albany.
The plan had been one element of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's transportation agenda. It has been defended by the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission, but criticized by current mayor Bill de Blasio.
A spokeswoman for the city's law department, which defended the plan, said: "We await further proceedings in this matter."
Nissan had in 2011 won a $1 billion, 10-year contract to supply its NV200 minivan, with sliding doors and an ability to convert to full electric power, for the city's taxi fleet.
The TLC then required medallion owners, who have the right to operate yellow cabs, to buy the vehicles.
But the plan was challenged by the Greater New York Taxi Association and others, which claimed that the commission could not force taxi operators to buy specific vehicles.
Many cabs now come from other manufacturers, including Ford and Toyota. Critics also complained that the Nissan vehicles were not designed to serve the handicapped.
Last October, a state supreme court justice said the TLC overstepped its authority in requiring purchases of the NV200.
But writing for a 3-1 appeals court majority, Justice David Saxe in June called the plan "a legally appropriate response to the agency's statutory obligation to produce a 21st century taxicab."
Saxe was on the panel that on Thursday authorized the appeal to the state's highest court.
When the contract was awarded, Nissan said it expected to provide up to 26,000 vehicles over the agreement's lifetime.
The case is Greater New York Taxi Association et al v. New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission et al, New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, 1st Department, No. M-3440.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Gunna Dickson)