The Mayor’s Horse Plan Bolts, and Drivers Are Cheering

Carriage driver Burak Oksayan and his horse, Blackie (Samantha McDonald)

A carriage driver and his horse, Blackie (Samantha McDonald)

Horse carriage and pedicab drivers get to keep their jobs after the City Council refused to vote today on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s legislation to reduce their presence at Central Park. And the drivers are happy.

The bill, which would have reduced the number of horses from 220 to 75 and prevented pedicab drivers from operating south of the park’s 85th Street Transverse, fell apart Thursday when Teamsters Joint Council 16, the union that represents horse carriage industry workers, abruptly pulled its support.

“The Teamsters’ first priority is always our members and their livelihoods,” Teamsters Joint Council 16 president George Miranda said in a statement. “With the legislation now finalized, our members are not confident that it provides a viable future for their industry.”

Although council members appeared skeptical during a hearing last month, they noted that the council had enough votes to pass the bill at that time. The reason behind the Teamsters’ withdrawal from the bill remains unclear, but many council members considered the union’s backing essential for the legislation to pass.

The bill “was negotiated in good faith, and was contingent on an agreement between the administration, the Teamsters, and the City Council,” Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said in a statement. “The Council will not vote on any horse carriage related legislation on Friday since the Teamsters no longer support the deal.”

The decision marked a political failure for the mayor, who had pledged to end the horse carriage industry during his 2013 campaign.

With the help of the Transport Workers Union Local 100, which rallied against the bill last week, the pedicab drivers are proposing their own plan for the establishment of  regulations that govern their operations at Central Park.

“This is very good news for us, but the battle has just begun,” said Ibrahim Barrie, a pedicab driver and organizer. “Now we need the drivers to agree with us in creating this organization. And most of the drivers are used to thinking with individuality and not cooperation.”

NYCLASS, the animal rights group that supported de Blasio during his mayoral campaign, called the delay “outrageous and wrong,” promising to increase efforts until the horse carriages are taken out of business. “We have a sensible plan to protect the horses, and it deserves a vote,” the group wrote in a statement. “But instead, the Speaker is allowing the Teamsters to call the shots, and allowing the horses to suffer.

Despite some council members’ desire to put this issue to rest, the mayor vowed to find another way to eliminate the horse carriage industry. “The terms of that agreement have not changed during these past weeks, but today the Teamsters decided to back away from the fair compromise they had previously endorsed,” de Blasio said in a statement Thursday. “While we are disappointed this bill will no longer be considered Friday, the people of this city know what I believe, and we will work toward a new path on this issue.”