Horse carriage deal may be coming soon

By Tom Momberg

Official proponents of a ban on the horse carriage industry in the city, the industry’s advocates and workers union have reached a compromise to introduce new limits on one of Manhattan’s most widely recognized historic activities.

Many of the carriage drivers and other industry workers live in the Queens neighborhoods of Jackson Heights and Bayside .

Mayor Bill de Blasio, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan) and the Teamsters Union representing the carriage drivers and horse caretakers jointly announced a new deal Sunday agreeing to allow the industry to continue to operate in Central Park only and to build permanent stables there.

Some preliminary details of the agreement have been released, but many facets of what will ultimately be included in a new City Council bill are still being worked out.

City Councilmen Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) and Ydanis Rodríguez (D-Manhattan), who have been avid supporters of a ban on the industry, said they were happy with the compromise, although more details are still supposed to be worked out.

“We are pleased that at the end of an exhaustive process, all sides in this negotiation were able to come to an amicable agreement that both removes horses from the dangers of city traffic and saves the jobs of many in the horse carriage industry,” Dromm and Rodríguez said in a joint statement. “Working out the logistics of this agreement will be key in reaching an outcome that is suitable to all parties involved.”

A ban is supposed to be put in place preventing carriage rides on city streets with the exception of the drivers going to and from Central Park and the current stables on Manhattan’s Upper West Side beginning June 1, the mayor’s office announced.

By the time a park stable is refurbished in October 2018, at which point officials said there would be space allotted for 68 carriages and 75 horses, the number of licensed horses would be limited to 95 or fewer—about half of the current 180 licenses.

Drivers of pedicabs, electronically assisted rickshaws, said they are concerned they would be banned from operating in Central Park south of 85th Street under the deal, handing horse carriages a monopoly on some of the park’s major attractions.

Nonprofit advocacy group New Yorkers for Parks has threatened to file a lawsuit against the city if the plan goes through — whether the use of the Central Park stables is based on a rental agreement or a concession — the group contests that park space should not be used for a private business, especially if it is running a monopoly on tourism.

The mayor pledged in his 2013 campaign for office to work with City Council to ban the industry, picking up financial support from a handful of animal rights groups.

“Everything will be contained in Central Park,” de Blasio said during a Monday news conference. “And it will obviously lead to many fewer horses being used in this industry. So, it’s a lot of progress. It’s real progress. Look, it’s not everything I wanted, I think I’ve been quite clear about that, but that’s why we have a democratic process.”

One of de Blasio’s strongest supporters was New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets, which was trying to sway council members to support the previous ban.

NYCLASS Spokesman Michael McKeon said it was too early to tell whether the deal would be strong enough to provide the animal protections it was seeking.

“When we see the bill in print and understand all the details, we will have more to say,” McKeon said in a statement.

Another animal rights group, The Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages, claims the deal, which calls for renovating an existing stable on the 85th Street Transverse through Central Park to house all licensed horses, is in the financial interest of all parties involved in the deal, as vested drivers would get a payout from selling their former stables, and not in the interest of the horses.

“De Blasio does not give a hoot about the Animal Rights activists who put him in office. Remember this man never had a good record on animal issues when he was in the Council. But he does care about donor dollars and the ‘animal rights’ group that put up a lot of money for his election,” the Coalition said in a statement.

Proponents of the former plan to ban the industry claimed the horses were not well cared for, and do not belong in the congested central borough, breathing in car fumes. Industry advocates have long said the regulations over the industry insure the safety and health of all the horses, that a ban would eliminate jobs and that horse carriages are a historic staple and a part of the city experience for many visitors.”

Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomberg@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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