Many guides to New York City suggest taking a scenic ride through Central Park in a horse drawn carriage. But some animal rights groups say these anachronisms will be entirely in the city's past.
That's because Mayor-elect Bill De Blasio has been a supporter of banning the horse drawn carriages in Midtown. Politico reports that it's still unclear how the new mayor's policy will unfold:
"De Blasio aides declined to provide details about the mayor-elect's work on the issue during the transition, saying only that he is committed to following through on the ban. He attended a fundraiser hosted by animal rights group NYCLASS earlier this month, reportedly receiving a bronze horse statue for his support."
NYCLASS, or New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets, is one of the organizations leading the charge to ban the horse carriage industry. NYCLASS says that New York's carriage horses don't have proper pasture, are exposed to exhaust fumes and are overworked. The organization also says that horses are easily "spooked," which leads to unnecessary traffic accidents.
A carriage driver was charged with animal abuse earlier this month, after a police officer discovered the horse was pulling a carriage while injured.
Even in the absence of outright abuse, horse and carriage rides in the city are a controversial topic. There are roughly 200 horses in Manhattan's carriage industry, employing about 300 workers and bringing in $19 million annually. The drivers, members of the Teamsters union, are understandably fighting for their jobs and many take pride in caring for their animals, as my colleague Jaymi Heimbuch pointed out in 2011:
"Recently I visited New York City and made a beeline for the carriage horses just to be near the animals I love so much. And, I've got to say, they looked quite well cared for.
There was no sign of ill health or neglect among these animals that I could detect, and I stared at about five horses for awhile because I was photographing them. There was a sense of pride from the drivers toward their horses, and no one who is abusing their horse would allow a photographer to spend 20 minutes or more aiming a lens at their horse. It seemed clear that the carriage drivers I was around had nothing to hide, and considering they are in a very, very public place day in and day out, they'd better have nothing to hide."
NYCLASS and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals both support proposed legislation that would phase out the use of horse-and-carriage rides, and replace them with vintage-style electric cars. A similar bill was defeated in 2010, but NYCLASS has since commissioned a prototype car.
Yet it's unlikely that vintage cars could replace or attract the current carriage drivers, union officer Demos Demopoulos told Polico. "These are all horse people," he said.
In the run-up to the election, DNAinfo reports that De Blasio seemed to be in favor of the legislation that would replace the horses with electric cars:
“It's time for the city to stop sidestepping this important animal welfare issue and embrace a reasonable solution that is worth testing,” he added. “We have absolutely nothing to lose by trying.”