what we do - and don’t - know about the carriage horse deal news analysis

| 19 Jan 2016 | 10:45

Campaigning for office, Bill de Blasio made eliminating the city’s carriage horses a central plank of his mayoral run, vowing to introduce a ban on Day 1 of his new administration.

Two years into office, now-Mayor de Blasio this week announced his plan.

But the move, which doesn’t ban the horses but moves them and reduced their number, raises a host of new questions, while infuriating many of the anti-carriage activists who helped get de Blasio elected.

What’s the proposal?De Blasio, flanked by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and a representative from the union that represents the carriage drivers, announced on Sunday a deal that would eventually reduce the number of licensed horses from about 220 to 75. The agreement also limits the operation of horse-drawn carriages, with the exception of travel to and from their existing stables, to Central Park beginning June 1.

De Blasio conceded that the agreement would not completely meet his campaign promise to eliminate the carriages, but he nevertheless called it “real progress.”

“Horses do not belong on the streets of the biggest city in the country in the middle of midtown traffic. It’s not fair and humane to the horses. It’s not fair to drivers – it creates congestion,” he said during a press conference Monday. “So, this agreement will achieve that. Horses will get off the streets of our city.”

When do the cuts start?The reduction will take effect when a permanent home is built for the horses in Central Park by Oct. 1, 2018. Once the stable is complete, all travel and operations will be inside Central Park, providing space for 68 carriages and 75 horses, officials said. Horses not at work must be on furlough outside the city.

When can the horses work?The number of hours per day a carriage may operate will be limited to 9 hours in any 24-hour period beginning Dec. 1 and carriages will be able to charge an extra $5 for trips after 6 p.m. between Nov. 15th and Jan. 5, and on Valentine’s Day or Easter, officials said.

What do the drivers get in return?The simple fact that the carriage industry is surviving is a major win for the drivers, given the ferocity of the opposition to any carriage horses in the park. (In addition to their passion, the anti-carriage forces also included some of de Blasio’s biggest campaign contributors. Indeed, some City Hall watchers have attributed de Blasio’s pledge to eliminate the horses – and former Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s refusal to do so in her mayoral bid – as a defining issue in the mayor’s victory.)

In an unexpected park of the deal, pedicabs – a major competitor to the horse carriages -- will not be permitted to operate in the park south of the 85th Street Transverse, beginning June 1.

If the carriage drivers could save their jobs, why couldn’t the pedicab drivers?Primarily because the pedicab operators don’t have the Teamsters behind them. They also are a more splintered, ad hoc industry, dominated by non-English speaking drivers and at times competing operators.

The mayor said that banning pedicabs from the park’s southern half was a “balance” issue.

“I think it’s a fair outcome,” he said.

What is the reaction of the carriage-horse opponents?Enraged. Elizabeth Forel, who heads the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages, one of the most visible opposition groups, released a statement Monday accusing de Blasio of caving to the Teamsters and to real estate developers from the West Side of Manhattan.

“The mayor stood by while the opposition became stronger and stronger, mounting an outrageous and dishonest campaign,” Forel wrote in a statement on her web site. “He never took the time to understand the issue and when he did comment often looked foolish. The truth never got out. But we know NYC is all about money and money talks. This is the constant thread of this deal.”

What do we know about the plans for a new stable?While the city has yet to confirm a site for the stable, speculation is that it will be located on 86th Street inside Central Park. Once used as a horse stable, the space is now used to store equipment. The New York Times estimated that the cost to retrofit the space could exceed $25 million.

The idea for the stable was seen as a solution to animal-welfare activists, who have objected to the commute the horses have to make from their stables in Hell’s Kitchen to Central Park South.

Already, Forel and others are raising questions about the legality of transforming public parkland into a stable for private business. A legal challenge, from anti-carriage groups or park advocates, is likely.

Is the deal done?Not yet. The mayor’s office referred to the agreement as “an agreement in concept” and council hearings still need to be held. Still, given the support of both Mark-Viverito and the unions, approval is likely.

“There’s obviously a lot of logistical issues that have to be worked through,” de Blasio said. “But this agreement I’m quite confident in.”