Horse-drawn carriages in Central Park are as iconic an image of New York City as the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building and Brooklyn Bridge. However, for those who have always wanted to emulate scenes in countless movies with a ride through the park or down Fifth Avenue, plan a trip to Manhattan soon. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio introduced a proposal in city council to ban the carriage horses.
The Mayor had promised to ban the carriages during his 2013 campaign. Now, about a year later, de Blasio is attempting to make good on his pledge, but a huge fight is looming. Passing the carriage-horse ban will test of how much political capital de Blasio has – or is willing to expend – for supporter who are pushing for the legislation.
Animal-rights groups were the supporters de Blasio was courting when he said he would ban the horse-drawn vehicles during the fierce campaign. Those who want the horses retired, claiming the practice is cruel, followed de Blasio’s campaign promise with a reported $200,000 in ads slamming his opponent.
On the other side are the New York carriage drivers. They are members of the Teamsters labor union, which means that other union groups support keeping the horses on the streets. In addition, public opinion opposes the ban, according to a poll taken this summer.
De Blasio’s bill would prohibit the horse-drawn carriages starting June 1, 2016. Exceptions would be made for filming television shows and movies as well as special events like parades. The measure also offers the 300 carriage drivers help obtaining regular taxi licenses or training for other employment. It also stipulates that the horses cannot be sent to slaughter if passed.
Supporters of the ban claim the horses suffer in temperatures that are either too hot or freezing. They also say that their lives are threatened in heavy New York City traffic. However, reports are that only three horses have died in traffic accidents in the last 30 years.
The measure does nothing to eliminate the other horses subject to the same temperatures and traffic in New York City – those owned by the city itself. New York uses horses regularly for crowd control via mounted police patrols.
Opponents of the horse-drawn vehicle ban point out that the carriage horses are well treated. They live in sprinkler-equipped homes, are examined regularly by veterinarians and take “vacations” in the countryside for five weeks a year. There is a rescue farm in Massachusetts to which many eventually retire, according to The New York Times.
The Times also pointed out recently that the fate of the horse real estate is also an issue besides the fate of the horses themselves. The stables, located in midtown Manhattan site on 64,000 square feet of prime real estate. It should be noted, however, that the police department also keeps horses in the facility.
Political pundits say the proposal to ban the carriage horses that was just introduced in New York City Council is an attempt by de Blasio to get the issue over and done with, regardless of the outcome. He is worried that his credibility is being eaten up by the delay and the colorful campaign issue (which makes great television news footage) is getting in the way of more important city business.
By Dyanne Weiss