Gotham Gazette

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Council Tries to Rein in Horse Carriages

Photo (cc) 2007 caruba

Runaway horses aren't the only things to worry about during carriage rides in Central Park.

The industry might now gallop off with your wallet.

In an attempt to whip the horse carriage industry into shape and diffuse criticism that it's inhumane, the City Council approved a bill (Intro 35) Wednesday that implements new safety and stable conditions for horses, but also doubles carriage ride rates. A half hour ride around Midtown now costs $34. The rate will jump to $50 for the first 20 minutes.

Council officials said the increase is warranted, because rates have not been touched in 20 years. They also say the bill implements important humane standards for the horses, giving them a five-week vacation outside of the city every year and requiring larger stalls.

Despite its intent, the bill was not supported by some animal rights activists, who argue the horse carriage industry should be eliminated altogether.

"New York City is not the ideal environment for it. It's not going to be an ideal environment for it," said Michelle Villagomez, a senior manager at the ASPCA. "Unfortunately, the city and the industry have been unwilling to really put the horses first."

The ASPCA had urged the council to approve a bill to replace the carriages with antique automobiles.

The carriage horse industry overwhelmingly supports the legislation. Its members filled the second floor balcony of City Hall as the council voted. When the council approved the bill by a vote of 43 to four with one abstention, they applauded.

Corralling Support for Carriages

In addition to the initial rate increase, the legislation will allow carriage horse operators to adjust rates for inflation every three years.

Stephen Malone, a spokesperson for the Horse and Carriage Association of New York and a carriage owner and operator, said the rates are a maximum. If tourists balk, he said, the driver can negotiate.

"We're not in business to go out of business," said Malone. "These are all provisions put in place to protect the sustainability of the industry."

According to testimony from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene on the bill, there are 202 licensed carriage horses, 68 carriages, 19 stables and 284 licensed drivers.

In addition to the five-week furlough, the carriage industry will have to provide horses with heavy blankets in cold weather and put emergency brakes on their carriages. A horse will now have to be between the age of 5 and 26 to pull a carriage.

The bill still allows carriages to operate on days from 18 degrees to 89 degrees. Advocates had urged the city to factor in wind chill and humidity.

The bill also does not change the number of hours a horse can work. Horses can now pull carriages for two hours at a time with a 15-minute break, said Malone. On average, he added, carriages only receive one ride an hour, meaning each driver and equine get a lot of down time. They can work for nine hours in a 24-hour period.

The bill will require horses see a vet before a carriage license can be renewed and every four to eight months after. Carriages will now be prohibited below 34th street.

In 2007, then Comptroller William Thompson audited the industry and found it was infrequently inspected and health conditions for horses were substandard. The audit was released as several accidents led to the death of several horses.

In response to criticism of the legislation, Council Speaker Christine Quinn defended the horse carriage industry, saying it was an iconic activity for any visitor to the Big Apple.

"We want to support this industry," said Quinn. "We want to keep it alive and running."

Another Williamsburg Development

The City Council also gave the OK for a 754-unit, mixed-use development, Rose Plaza on the River, to take root in south Williamsburg.

The development will include about 25,000 square feet of community and commercial space, and extend open space along the Brooklyn waterfront south of the Williamsburg Bridge.

For weeks, officials questioned whether the community and the developer, Isack Rosenberg, would be able to reach an agreement over the size of the units and the amount of affordable housing. Up until Tuesday night, the area's council member, Stephen Levin, had not expressed support for the plan.

Under an agreement reached between Levin and the developer, the mixed-use development will make 30 percent of its units affordable, including 144 that could accommodate large families.

"This project has not been without controversy, but I am pleased to report we have come one step closer to reclaiming the Williamsburg waterfront," said Levin. "Affordable housing is desperately needed throughout the city and it is essential to communities like Williamsburg that have suffered from gentrification over the past several years."

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