New York City on verge of deal with horse carriages

NEW YORK - City officials are close to a deal that would save Central Park's horse-drawn carriages from a threatened ban.

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When Mayor Bill de Blasio was elected two years ago, he pledged to end the popular carriage rides through the park right away, calling it inhumane to keep horses in loud, car-clogged Manhattan. But now his administration is negotiating with a carriage drivers' union a compromise deal that would keep the horses trotting.

As many as two-thirds of the approximately 200 horses working in the park would be permanently retired. The remaining ones would get a new home, a stable built within Central Park, a City Hall official not authorized to speak publicly about the negotiations told The Associated Press. The official told the AP the plan could be announced by Friday.

The Central Park stalls, replacing four privately owned stables on Manhattan's West Side, would have space for around 75 horses, although the official said that number could change as the plan firms up.

The move to the park would address one complaint from animal welfare activists: that the horses were in danger every time they made their daily walks from their staging area at the south end of the park to the urban stables where they now sleep at night.

One location being discussed for the horses' new home flanks Central Park's 86th Street Transverse.

But Elizabeth Forel, of the Coalition to Ban Horse Drawn Carriages, said Thursday she remains "absolutely" opposed to any plan that does not ban carriage horses altogether. She also questioned whether it's proper to house horses belonging to private businesses in the very public Central Park, which serves as a refuge for harried urban denizens.

"What right does Mayor Bill de Blasio have to take public land and build a stable for private use?" asked Forel.

Besides, she said, even in the park, often filled with crowds, the horses can "get spooked" and run rampant.

Another animal welfare group sees a move to Central Park as a compromise that would clear streets of carriages.

"We're open to a compromise, but we need to see more details," said John Collins, spokesman for NYCLASS, an animal advocacy organization working for "a more humane city for all New Yorkers, two-legged and four-legged."

But Collins said the group wants more information on where and how many hours a day the horses will be working, what kind of veterinary care they will get and what happens to them after they age and are no longer useful.

Drivers had mixed reactions.

"Being forced to move to Central Park would be a great idea - if it would be all the horses!" said driver Ian McKeever, who owns licenses for three carriages. Otherwise, "that's a lot of work for about 70 horses."

The Dublin native is one of about 160 full-time drivers, a majority represented by the Teamsters negotiating the possible deal.

The Central Park Conservancy, which oversees the park, did not return calls for comment.

If the plan is approved by the City Council, the park stable would be ready by 2018. Central Park already has one stable originally used by a city equine unit and now for storage; it was not clear whether it could be repurposed.

Also unclear is whether the deal would include any compensation for carriage drivers who lose their jobs.

Several drivers contacted by the AP declined to comment further on the closed-door talks. The Democratic mayor's administration, the council and the Teamsters issued a statement that said the discussions continue "to reach an equitable outcome."


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