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Accident Heats Up Horse-Drawn Carriage Debate
By Amy Lieberman
Coming off the heels of a horse-drawn carriage accident on the Upper East Side in mid-September, New York City Comptroller William Thompson released a follow-up audit report analyzing the carriage industry in New York City last week.
The ASPCA and New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Sustainable Streets, an organization pushing for a phase-out of the industry, lauded the Sept. 21 audit report, which cites several infractions pertaining to licensing and lack of oversight from city agencies.
The document serves as “another resource for us in the animal resource community, coming from an independent source backing up a lot of the points that we raise,” according to Michelle Villagomez, the ASPCA's senior manager of Advocacy and Campaigns, but community organizers appear unconvinced that they will have imminent success in pushing a complete ban, or phase-out, of the commercial practice.
City Councilman Tony Avella -- also a candidate in the 2009 Democratic primary for New York City mayor -- first introduced a bill, Intro 658, to ban horse-drawn carriages in January 2009, as Zootoo Pet News previously reported. The bill has not gained considerable traction since its introduction, though, lacking a substantial number of co-sponsors. Animal activists are now seeking a new political champion for their cause, as the bill expires at the end of the year, and Avella is not running for re-election.
Yet Elizabeth Forel, president of the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages, says she is not giving up on her fight anytime soon, and that it is just a matter of time before the public -- and political -- consensus shifts to the perception that the carriage industry is dated and dangerous.
“We’ve been doing this for four years now, and I know that anything worthwhile is going to take a very long time to do, passing the legislation to change something that is so ingrained in society here,” Forel said. “It’s just a function of waiting and not losing faith, and continuing to work on this issue and educate people about it.”
Forel founded the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages -- which to date has gathered 40,000 signatures in support of a ban -- in 2005, as a standing committee of the coalition for NYC Animals Inc. Yet Forel says she first became aware of the horse carriage industry in the early 1990s, when she would observe the animals trudging through Midtown or Central Park.
“These horses look dispirited,” Forel said. “There was something about seeing them, working like that, that really touched me. Horses are not meant to walk amongst traffic and be kept in tiny stables on 11th Avenue.”
During Fiscal Year 2008, there were approximately 203 licensed horses, 283 licensed drivers, and 68 licensed carriages in New York City, according to the Comptroller’s recent audit. The NYC Department of Consumer Affairs licenses the horse-drawn carriages, and the city also oversees the treatment of the horses through routine inspections, as well as through a backing by the ASPCA.
Among other conditions, the horses are not able to work when the temperature reaches, or dips below, 18 degrees Fahrenheit, and rises to or above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The privately own horses are provided with adequate living conditions and stables, largely located in Midtown on the west side, the follow-up audit found.
Yet the report also cited several violations and new concerns, such as horses working after their licenses have expired, and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, one of the agencies that oversees the horses’ treatment, does not utilize and check off designated stable inspection forms.
The ASPCA has also largely fallen into the role as a default monitoring agency, though it technically does not preside over the industry or the horses’ well being, the report noted.
Around 19 horse carriage related accidents have been documented since 2000; the latest, on Sept. 19, occurred on 5th Avenue, where a taxi going south drove into a carriage. The carriage and taxi driver both required hospitalization, though the horse did not suffer any injuries.
That hasn’t been the case, though, in many of the other horse-drawn carriage accidents in NYC, Forel noted, saying that both people and horses have regularly suffered injuries in the past nearly 10 years. At least two horses have also died in accidents, according to the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages.
While BANHDC has proposed a total elimination of the industry, NYClass is pushing for a general three-year phase-out of the commercial practice, replacing horses with hybrid or novelty, designer show cars. The horse drawn-carriage drivers will then be commissioned to drive the cars, circumventing the issue of potentially lost jobs.
“It will give the industry plenty of time to handle the issue, and give the workers time to transition to show cars, if they choose to do so,” explained Jake Dilemani, spokesperson for NYClass. “It won’t leave people in the dark.”
“Horse carriage drivers would be able to go right into the show car driving business, potentially for higher wages and a better working environment.”
City Council, though is not likely to reconsider a potential ban or phase-out of horse-drawn carriages until 2010, when recently elected, or re-elected, Councilmembers are seated.
In the meantime, Forel says that the Coalition will continue to lobby for their cause -- people can commonly spot them on Central Park South, distributing leaflets and educational materials.
“This issue isn’t going to go away on its own, and we are not going to give up until it does,” she said.
To learn more about horse-drawn carriages in NYC, and the movements to end the practice, visit Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages and NY-Class.
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