Central Park horse carriage plan faces tough questions at City Council hearing

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Lauren Glassberg is live at City Hall with the details.

The mayor may have believed he found a compromise plan to overhaul Central Park's popular carriage horse rides, but his administration didn't come prepared for a City Council unwilling to go along for the ride.

At a Friday hearing packed with carriage drivers, animal welfare activists, park advocates and bicycle taxi owners, members of Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio's staff were peppered with questions they couldn't answer about the plan.

The proposal would ban carriage horses from operating on Manhattan streets, where they now have to mingle with vehicular traffic as they plod to and from the park, and would trim the carriage fleet. But it also would give the horses a permanent home in a multimillion-dollar Central Park stable, to be built at city expense.

Park advocates questioned how much the stable would cost and whether it is the best use of park space. Drivers of pedicabs, small pedal-operated rickshaw-type vehicles used like taxis, were outraged that the plan would ban them from much of the park to protect the carriages from competition.

Some of the toughest questions came from members of the overwhelmingly Democratic City Council, who wanted to know how much the new stable would cost, where in the park it might be built and whether it would open by a 2018 deadline. The council members also demanded to know the potential job losses for the carriage operators and the pedicab drivers.

More often than not, the de Blasio administration couldn't provide specifics. That left many council members hinting they wouldn't support the plan until those answers were forthcoming.

"I'm deeply disappointed by the presentation by the administration today," Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer said. "We have to wait to know how many jobs are lost. We have to wait to know where in the park. We have to wait to know how much it will cost."

Several council members expressed concerns that the proposal, which by June 1 would limit the carriages to Central Park unless they were traveling to and from their stables, was moving too fast.

"What is the urgency here today?" Councilman Barry Grodenchik said. "You're asking us to partially dismantle an industry that predates the Civil War."

The director of the mayor's office of operations, Mindy Tarlow, said the proposal aims to strike a balance between eliminating the dangers posed to the horses when they mingle with traffic while ensuring the viability of the industry, which is seen often in movies and TV shows set in New York.

The proposal was supported by the animal advocacy organization NYClass, which had lobbied de Blasio to ban the carriage horse rides on the grounds they're inhumane.

"We think this legislation represents a fair compromise that would stop the worst of the cruelties that are currently happening," said the group's executive director, Allie Taylor.

Other animal welfare groups have opposed the plan as a giveaway to an industry they abhor.

The mayor made a campaign promise to banish the horses but abandoned it in the face of public opposition.

Pedicab driver Ibrahim Donmez, who's from Turkey, said the mostly immigrant bicycle taxi drivers were given the shortest stick of all.

"What makes the jobs of carriage drivers more valuable than the job of the pedicab drivers?" he said to a smattering of applause.

A vote has not been scheduled.
Related Topics:
politicshorse-drawn carriageshorsescentral parkbill de blasioNew York City
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