City Could Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages as Soon as May 2016
Jesse Dittmar for the Voice
New details are leaking out about the rumored bill to ban carriage horses in Central Park. According to an advocate who has communicated with the mayor's administration throughout the drafting process, the bill will be introduced as soon as Monday by City Councilmember Daniel Dromm. It will propose sunsetting horse-drawn carriages by May 31, 2016, when the last of the carriage operator licenses are set to expire. (A spokeswoman for the councilman confirmed the report to the Voice.)
Edita Birnkrant, campaigns director for the advocacy group Friends of Animals, has been lobbying to ban horse-drawn carriages in the park since 2006. She says she is overwhelmingly pleased with the bill Mayor Bill de Blasio's office has come up with. "They wanted to put out the best possible bill that they could have created and I do think, from what I have seen, that is exactly what they have done."
The bill will include support for carriage owners, carriage drivers, and stable workers -- yes, Birnkrant confirms, offering free green-cab medallions (street value $5,000-$7,000) to any interested drivers is part of the package -- as well as a call for proposals for a system to replace the horses.
"The mayor's administration will be going out and asking the private sector if they have proposals and ideas for the city to consider for a similar system to replace the horse-drawn carriage rides around Central Park," Birnkrant says. "They are opening it up to the private sector and saying, 'Hey, let's see your proposals -- what do you have that could replace the tourism aspect of the carriage rides in New York City?' "
The legislation will not go up for a vote until June 2015 at the earliest because it includes a study of the economic impact of dismantling the horse-drawn carriage industry. ("It's a necessary precondition to the council voting on the legislation and [one] that's expected to take up to six months," Birnkrant says.)
The actual phasing-out of the horse-drawn carriages will be done with the expiration of the carriage drivers' licenses. The last of the licenses to own a horse-drawn carriage, which are valid for two years, are set to expire on March 31, 2016.
Those will be extended for two months in order to sync up with the last of the licenses to operate a horse-drawn carriage, which will expire on May 31, 2016. A third license (to own a horse) will need to be coordinated with the dates of the other two as well.
According to Birnkrant, the bill will also include a provision -- crucial for animal-rights advocates -- regulating how the horses will transition into "retirement."
"There is a section that includes requirements for the horse owners to properly and humanely sell or dispose -- that's the jargon they use -- of a horse," Birnkrant says. She adds that owners will have to notify the city 10 days in advance of a sale. "It also adds language that an owner may not sell or donate a licensed horse for the purposes of slaughter, and it requires certification to that effect. The section also requires that records with the name, address, and telephone number of the horse be provided to the city."
The purpose is to ensure horses end up in a nice home upstate, rather than a slaughterhouse in Canada or Mexico. "That's a really important part of the bill because for many years now, we've been very disappointed at loopholes in the law that offer zero legal protection for the carriage horses, so when they are sold outside of New York City -- and they are always sold outside of New York City -- there are no records required, there is nothing in there that mandates that they not be sold to slaughter."
(A few years back, Friends of Animals rescued a former Central Park carriage horse put up for auction in New Holland, Pennsylvania.)
Birnkrant says the bill that is set to be unveiled next week goes beyond even what she thought she could hope for: "Originally we thought there would be a three-year phase-out, and this is not even that. This is going to happen even sooner than that."
Monica Klein, assistant press secretary for the mayor's office, would not confirm any of the aforementioned details, but she offered the following statement: "We've been considering a range of options that move the horses off our streets, safeguard the animals, and protect the livelihoods of the men and women who provide carriage rides."
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