NEW YORK (AP) — New York City officials are close to a deal that would save Central Park’s horse-drawn carriages from a threatened ban.
When he was elected two years ago, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged to end the popular carriage rides through the park on “day one” of his administration, calling it inhumane to keep horses in loud, car-clogged Manhattan.
But now his administration is negotiating a compromise deal with a union representing many carriage drivers that would keep the horses trotting.
As many as two-thirds of the approximately 200 horses now working in the park would be permanently retired from the carriage fleet, but those that remain would get a permanent home, a new stable built within Central Park itself, a City Hall official not authorized to speak publicly about the ongoing negotiations told The Associated Press.
The official told the AP that the plan is likely to be announced by Friday.
The stable, which would replace four privately owned stables on Manhattan’s West Side, would have space for around 75 horses, although the official said that number could change as the plan firms up.
The move to the park would address one complaint from animal rights activists, which was that the horses were in danger every time they made their daily walks from their staging area at the park partway across town to the urban stables where they sleep at night.
One location being discussed for the horses’ new home flanks Central Park’s 86th Street Transverse.
But Elizabeth Forel of the Coalition to Ban Horse Drawn Carriages said Thursday she remains “absolutely” opposed to any plan that does not ban carriage horses altogether. She also questioned whether it’s proper to house horses belonging to private businesses in the very public Central Park that serves as a refuge for harried urban denizens.
“What right does Mayor Bill de Blasio have to take public land and build a stable for private use?” asked Forel. Besides, she said, even in the park that’s often filled with crowds, the horses can “get spooked” and run rampant.
Another animal rights group sees a move to Central Park as a compromise that would clear streets of carriages.
“We’re open to a compromise, but we need to see more details,” said John Collins, spokesman for NYCLASS, an animal advocacy organization working for “a more humane city for all New Yorkers, two-legged and four-legged.”
But Collins said the group wants more information on exactly where the horses will be working, how many hours a day, and what kind of veterinary care they will get, as well as what happens to them after they age and are no longer useful.
Drivers had a mixed reaction.
“Being forced to move to Central Park would be a great idea — if it would be all the horses!” said driver Ian McKeever, who owns licenses for three carriages. Otherwise, “that’s a lot of work for about 70 horses.”
The Dublin native is one of about 160 full-time drivers — a majority represented by the Teamsters negotiating the possible deal.
The Central Park Conservancy, which oversees the park, did not return calls for comment.
If the plan is approved by the City Council, the park stable would be ready by 2018. Central Park already has one stable originally used by a city equine unit and now for storage; it was not clear whether it could be repurposed.
It’s not clear whether the deal would include any compensation for carriage drivers who lose their jobs.
Several drivers contacted by the Ap declined to comment further on the closed-door talks. The de Blasio administration, the council and the Teamsters issued a statement that said the discussions continue “to reach an equitable outcome.”