Ibrahim Barrie hasn’t slept soundly in days.
The 28-year-old pedicab driver worries that his family of five might not be able to afford living in the city under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal to restrict the horse carriage industry and ban pedicabs in Central Park.
The City Council is expected to vote on the proposal Friday, less than two weeks after administration officials failed to answer questions about the legislation at a hearing. The plan, detailed in a fact sheet distributed to council members, would reduce the number of horses from 220 to 75, moving them to stables to be built at the 86th Street Shop at Central Park. The plan also bans 837 pedicabs from working south of the park’s 85th Street transverse, starting June 1.
The legislation has become one of Mayor de Blasio’s priorities following a promise he made more than two years ago during his campaign to end the horse carriage industry, which he then described as inhumane and outdated.
Pedicab drivers expressed their fears over the plan in a rally held Thursday outside City Hall. With the support of animal rights advocates, they chanted, “Save our jobs!” to protest the loss of business in the southern region of the park, which is home to majority of its tourist attractions, including the Wollman’s Rink and the carousel.
“This is robbery,” said Barrie, who also sends money from his earnings as a pedicab driver to his relatives in Sierra Leone. “I’ve been doing this for almost 10 years. In the beginning, I was a bike messenger, and now I’ve invested everything I have in here. If they take this away, the game is over.”
Faridun Mukhtorov, a full-time finance student at Baruch College who has been driving his pedicab for eight years, said he’s also angry and afraid. He is the only one in his four-person household who works and he supports his parents whom he brought last year from Tajikistan.
“[Pedicabs] don’t belong in this bill,” Mukhtorov said. “This is the only job I have, and I’ve been doing it for many years, so it will be a complete disaster [for me] if this ban will take place.”
Council member Carlos Menchaca was the only elected official who attended the rally. In his address, he asked the City Council and the de Blasio administration to consider having discussions with pedicab drivers, whom he urged not to lose hope regardless of the vote’s outcome.
“There are a lot of New Yorkers rooting for you today,” Menchaca told the protestors. “This is just one battle in a long conversation of progress.”
Concerns among pedicab drivers began when the Teamsters Union, which represents the horse carriage drivers, reached a compromise deal with the de Blasio administration last weekend to limit the operation of horse carriages and keep the horses within the park.
The Teamsters guaranteed finding jobs for displaced workers. City Hall, in the released fact sheet, said that that an estimated 40 to 50 horse carriage jobs might be lost after December 1.
Horse carriage drivers are almost as worried as the pedicab drivers. A Turkish student who moved to Queens from Turkey two years ago and makes his living as a horse carriage driver, said that the proposal, if passed, would considerably affect his income. He also fears that his 18-year-old mare, Candy, will not be able to find a home.
“If they reduce the horses, I will have no job,” tbe student said. “If they reduce the horses, Candy will go to a slaughterhouse. That’s why we’re fighting.”
Even animal rights activists, who once supported the ban, now oppose it, citing job losses and a potential monopoly for the horse carriage industry in Central Park.
“At the eleventh hour for the mayor to come in and make this huge change,” said Edita Birnkrant, campaigns director at Friends of Animals, a nonprofit organization against animal cruelty, “ruins the integrity of the bill and kills this pedicab industry.”
“It’s an ethical, humane industry,” she added.
The mayor has repeatedly defended his plan, which would cost the city about $25 million. The fact sheet distributed to city council members stated that the tourism fueling the pedicab industry is growing. Pedicab drivers wouldn’t disagree with that, but argue that’s precisely the point: a significant portion of their business, they say, is from tourists and is conducted below the transverse where they will be banned from operating under the plan.
“The lives will be destroyed for hundreds of people,” said Ibrahim Donmez, owner of New York Pedicab Services. “[Many pedicab drivers are] barely standing on their own feet at the moment. If you limit the access to the park, there would be no more pedicabs.”