MANHATTAN (CN) – Fighting new rules on where horse-drawn carriages can pick up passengers, a half-dozen carriage owners say New York City’s changes are a “recipe for disaster” and a death knell for their industry.
Carriage drivers have been picking up tourists around Central Park for over 160 years, but effective Feb. 15 they will be restricted to three designated zones inside the park.
Represented by Upper East Side attorney Craig Sheldon, Stephen Malone and five other owner-operators in the carriage business brought a petition Monday in Manhattan Supreme Court to halt the rule change.
The 32-page petition says the new rules “will create an immediate danger to the carriage horses, drivers and the general public,” and “will decimate the horse-drawn carriage industry.”
“Nothing about the new rule benefits the horses or their drivers. Everything about it is designed to hurt the horses and the business,” the petition continues. “The new rule is just the latest salvo in a battle by animal-rights extremists to do away with the horse-drawn carriage industry that they have been waging for decades.”
In between rides, carriage drivers have historically waited along 59th Street in so-called hack lines along Central Park South and Grand Army Plaza.
The owners claim that moving carriages into the park will hurt their easy visibility and accessibility to potential customers.
“Central Park South and Grand Army Plaza have always served as a billboard and storefront for the New York City carriage business and are both a literal, practical landmark and a designated one,” the petition states.
If the new rule goes into effect, the carriages would also be prohibited from picking up and discharging customers in many area landmarks where they traditionally have operated, such as Tavern on the Green, Strawberry Fields, Bethesda Terrace, Times Square, Rockefeller Plaza, and the major museums within the area of permitted operations.
According to the petition there are 68 licensed horse-drawn carriages and approximately 140 horses boarded in New York City at any given time that are working as carriage horses.
The New York City Department of Transportation adopted the rule change on on Jan. 4. Owners say moving the 140 horses overnight to the new surroundings would be upsetting and stressful to the animals.
Mayor Bill de Blasio vowed on his inauguration day on Jan. 1, 2014, to immediately ban the carriages, and the petition says the rule change is just the latest attempt at keeping that promise.
According to the petition, de Blasio has been the recipient, directly and indirectly, of more than $1 million dollars of donations and support from animal-rights activists Steve Nislick, Wendy Neu, New Yorkers for Clean, Livable & Safe Streets, and other animal-rights activists who have fought to ban carriage horses from New York City streets.
The petitioners claim that the Department of Transportation violated the city’s Administrative Procedure Act by failing to seek input from the “discrete regulated community,” and also rebuffing attempt after attempt by the industry to discuss the proposed rules.
“In their zeal to do the bidding of de Blasio and his animal-rights financiers, the DOT also ran roughshod over the rights of the horse-drawn carriage owners and drivers by intentionally violating the City Administrative Procedure Act,” the petition states.
A spokesperson for the New York City Law Department said Monday that a prior court order allowed the city to proceed with preparations necessary to ready the new horse carriage pickup sites within Central Park.
A judge will hold a hearing on Feb. 8 concerning today’s filing.
“The city is hopeful that at that appearance the Court will allow the new regulations to go fully into effect,” the New York City Law Department spokesperson added.
Representatives for the mayor’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.