By Elizabeth Forel and Susan Wagner
New York Daily News | Aug 24, 2021 5:00 AM
In this overwhelmingly Democratic city, our next mayor, barring any surprises, is likely to be Eric Adams. He will have the opportunity to solve a problem that no mayor before has been able to solve: the horse carriages in Central Park. Back in 2013, it was, in fact, his promise to shut down the business on Day One that helped propel Bill de Blasio into Gracie Mansion.
It never happened because he forgot one thing: This is a union town, and the carriage business was supported by many unions.
Although a known vegan and animal rights supporter, the hallmark of Adams’ primary campaign was his public safety platform, which resonated with New Yorkers. But now it’s time to acknowledge that horse carriages are also a public safety issue. Horses are nervous prey animals who can spook and bolt at the slightest provocation, running into traffic and pedestrians and causing havoc, injury or even death. Horse carriage accidents are all too common in cities that have them, including New York.
For the next mayor, there is a solution for the horse carriages that promotes public safety, protects the horses, the tradition of the carriage ride and provides good union jobs. That solution is the electric horseless carriage. While the concept of electric vehicles to replace carriage horse rides is not a new one, it has never been seriously tried, and pro-carriage-horse advocates here mocked the concept.
Our own inspiration came in 2019 during a fact-finding trip to Guadalajara, Mexico; Guadalajara is the first city in the world to make the transition from horse-drawn carriages to electric horseless carriages. We were amazed and impressed by what we saw. The electric carriages were designed to be aesthetically similar to their former horse carriages. We took a ride in one and had a marvelous time sitting up high and seeing the sights as the driver talked to us about the different neighborhoods and historic sections of the city.
Since Guadalajara’s success story, electric horseless carriages have become a worldwide movement in compassionate tourism. A growing number of global cities, including Cologne, Dubai, Santo Domingo, Mumbai and Istanbul have followed suit, along with others that are in the process of transitioning.
What is New York waiting for?
Jobs will be preserved. The impending elimination of well-paying union jobs was the biggest sticking point in calls for a ban on horse carriages eight years ago. Transitioning to low-maintenance electric carriages not only saves jobs, but the drivers may well earn more money because they are not paying for the care of the horses including hay, feed, vet bills and more. The drivers we spoke to in Guadalajara were very happy with how their lives benefitted from the transition.
Horses will be placed in loving homes. In Guadalajara, Ana Lorena Pulido, a local attorney who also runs an animal protection organization, was tasked with placing the horses in good homes. They were surrendered to her when replaced by electric carriages. Most cities that have transitioned also worked with animal protection organizations to place horses in homes where they can live out the rest of their lives.
It’s an equitable solution. Guadalajara’s political environment was very similar to New York City’s eight years ago. That required intense conversations and compromise, but Guadalajara’s mayor, community organizers, animal activists, the designer and builder of the electric carriages and carriage drivers came together to set the standard.
It expands an industry. Once electric carriages receive the legal classification needed to operate on NYC streets, there will be an opportunity to create more good union jobs by adding additional electric carriage routes to other tourist spots in Manhattan and other boroughs. Horses, on the other hand, are always going to be restricted to Central Park and its environs.
The status quo is slowly dwindling. In recent years, the number of carriage horse stables in NYC has dwindled from five to three. There is no guarantee that the drivers will not lose their jobs anyway since the West Side of Manhattan, which houses stables, is being developed and developers could buy that property. With electric carriages, that potential problem will be averted.
As we gear up to swear in a new mayor on Jan. 1, 2022, there will be a long list of issues and challenges to tackle. The horse carriage issue is just one of many, but it can now be dealt with successfully without putting any jobs at risk and can be an exciting addition to a struggling tourist industry.
Will Eric Adams finally broker a solution where Bill de Blasio has failed? The opportunity is there for the taking.
Wagner and Forel are co-founders of the Committee for Compassionate and Responsible Tourism.