Mayor Bill de Blasio’s stance on horses in Central Park has shifted quite a bit since his campaign days two years ago. Back then, he took up the cause to ban the park’s historic horse-drawn carriages, promising they would get the axe on “Day One” of his administration. The cause didn’t see much progress since then until this week, when city officials put forth a compromise that would shrink the horse carriage business and implement some measures to improve conditions for the working horses. Although the deal was supposed to be a positive move for the city and the horses, carriage owners, pedicab drivers, many members of the public, and even animal rights advocates are upset over the plan, saying that the mayor is pandering to wealthy supporters instead of doing the right thing for Central Park’s horses.
The compromise is a far cry from de Blasio’s earlier promise to ban the dangerous ‘occupation,’ and many critics are pointing a stiff finger in his direction after the agreement was solidified on Monday morning. City Council will still have to vote to approve the measure, but it’s expected to pass easily. The deal aims to decrease the number of horses in the park from 220 to 95 by 2018, with a provision to restrict the number of working horses to 75 at a time. The horse stables will also be relocated from the west side of Manhattan to a location inside the park, getting horses off city streets. Additionally, the deal imposes other new regulations to keep pedicab traffic and horse carriages separate, an effort that is aimed at reducing the incidence of horses being spooked by pedicabs. That element has drawn ire from pedicab drivers, many of whom are now considering suing the city for restricting their income potential.
Although de Blasio promised prior to taking office that he would ban all horse-drawn carriages on “Day One” of his administration, critics now say he never gave it an honest shot. The mayor has fallen short of explaining why he is no longer seeking an outright ban, but instead has tried to highlight the positive impacts of the new deal on the horses’ welfare. By restricting their working hours and limiting their interaction with car traffic, de Blasio says the animals will have a safer working environment.
Aside from the animal rights issue, one of the biggest concerns about the initiative is the price tag. Although the city has declined to comment on the cost of renovating an older building to create new horse stables, estimates place the project around $25 million. Because the land in question is a public park, that funding would come from taxpayers and the public is somewhat miffed about the idea of making that kind of investment to support a cash-only industry made up of just 68 businesses. Even park advocates think this move is a bad idea. Betsy Barlow Rogers, a founder of the Central Park Conservancy, told the New York Times, “It is like building a palace for a concessionaire. [The plan] absolutely must be opposed.”