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TWU opposes bill that would ban Central Park horse carriages


Martin Vazquez, 39, held out his hand for his wife Sofia, 37, as she stepped out of a pedicab on Central Park South on Labor Day. The married couple of eight years consciously chose for their spontaneous ride around the 842-acre park to be with a pedicab and not with a horse-drawn carriage.

“We just don’t feel comfortable riding the horses especially on a hot day,” said Sofia. “They shouldn’t be working all day like this.”

Behind the couple from the Bronx were about a dozen more horse-drawn carriages, all now at the heart of a reignited debate to replace horse carriages in favor of electric carriages. The reinvigorated discussion about the famed horse-carriage rides in Central Park took shape in recent weeks following incidents, some captured on video, of horses collapsing and running into oncoming traffic.

Among those who want to phase out the horse-drawn rides is Council Member Robert Holden, who introduced a bill that would effectively end the horse-carriage industry in Central Park. If the bill becomes law, horse carriages would be phased out and replaced by electric-powered carriages by June 2024, with the drivers of the horse-drawn buggies given priority for licenses for horseless carriages they would either sell or lease. The city would cap the number of those licenses it would issue. 

But TWU Local 100, which represents the Central Park carriage drivers, is concerned that the possible change could lead to a dramatic decline in riders and in turn, drivers' wages. “Nobody wants to ride an electric golf cart,” said Christina Hansen, a communications liaison for the local  “Essentially you’d be putting the carriage drivers out of work or giving them a business that they could no longer support themselves or their families.”

Holden, though, argues that the carriage drivers would actually be better off with a shift away from horse carriages. He points to examples from around the world, such as Guadalajara, Mexico, where a swap to electric carriages has proven beneficial to both riders and drivers.

‘Nothing makes any sense’

If Holden’s bill is passed into law, the drivers would be required to be paid union wages set by the city comptroller. “There’s a much better chance of carriage drivers owning the (electric carriage) than there ever be of them owning a $200,000 horse,” said Holden, who represents portions of Queens on the Council. “They’d end up better than they are now.”

But Hansen contends that tourists come to Central Park to ride in a horse carriage, not an electric one, and points to other options, such as pedicabs and motorized scooters. “They’re going to force us to get rid of our horses and they’re going to tell us you have to drive these city-owned vehicles and there is nothing in there that makes any sense,” she said. “It’s fundamentally an anti-horse bill.”

A recent poll indicated that 71 percent of  city voters were in favor of a ban on horse carriages, which date to the 1860s. 

The electric carriages that would replace the horses are low-speed vehicles that can travel up to 25 mph to meet city traffic demands but would be limited to just 3 mph within Central Park.

Eric McClure, the executive director of StreetsPAC, is against any kind of motorized vehicles within Central Park. “We think it resets a bad precedent given all the effort it took to remove cars from the park,” said McClure.

Edita Birnkrant, the executive director of New Yorkers for Clean, Livable, and Safe Streets, an animal rights organization that wants the horse carriages banned, points to the worldwide outrage that has come from the viral videos of horses collapsing. She says it’s time for TWU Local 100, which represents about 300 horse-carriage drivers and owners, to see the writing on the wall.

“The smart thing for the union to do would be to realize this is happening, get on board, and look at it as a positive thing,” Birnkrant said. “Otherwise, if they don’t wish to drive the electric carriages there will be a line around the block of other people that would love that job.”

In an effort to find a compromise with detractors, Local 100 officials have proposed building a stable inside of Central Park so that horses wouldn’t have to travel across traffic. 

While the debate surrounding a possible horse ban has been a hot topic this summer, the issue has been at the center of heated discussions over the years. Two years ago, NYCLASS and other animal-rights groups lobbied city officials and gained legislation that confined the horse carriages to Central Park and prohibited the rides during extreme heat. 

Holden’s bill, which has 13 co-sponsors, will be taken up by the Committee on Health. “This is the right thing to do for the horses. This is the right thing to do for the workers,” Birnkrant said of Holden’s legislation. “So many people want nothing to do with a carriage horse.”



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