Friday, November 29, 2013

LIES AND DESPERATION - the NYC horse-carriage trade


New York City – November 2013.  It’s been bad news for those who operate horse-drawn carriages in New York City and it is about time.  For years it was bad news for those who cared about animal welfare – with one cold hearted and insensitive Mayor after the other in office.  But this election season it was different with the top two candidates running for the office of Mayor both taking an official stand in support of shutting down the inhumane and unsafe horse-drawn carriage trade. 

the eyes tell it all on this horse 
The carriage drivers and their friends are desperate and digging in their heels.  Even though the handwriting is on the wall and has been for some time and two separate alternate businesses have been offered to them and turned down, they are making up lies about their carriage business to try to influence public opinion.  They put out statements designed to deceive and to make things appear much better than they really are … as long as no one asks questions.  The media in far corners of the US  - and some in New York City - have picked up the Associated Press story and shamefully did no fact checking on their own.   

This is a business that has been unpopular in NYC for many, many years – a business that has been favored by the last two administrations that turned their backs on the violations and abuse.  With Mayor-Elect Bill deBlasio taking office in January 2014 – it will be different.  Mr. DeBlasio has promised to ban the horse-drawn carriage trade in New York City.

To sort through the duplicity put out by the carriage trade, the following is a list of their
LIES followed by the TRUTH. 

LIE:  There have been only three carriage horses who died as a result of a collision with traffic in the past 30 years.

TRUTH:  In the last 7 years, there have been at least 4 public deaths of carriage horses in NYC and many more within the confines of the stables.  Spotty – 2006; Juliet – 2006, Smoothie – 2007, Charlie 2011.  But there have been many more horses who were injured because of accidents.  The public does not differentiate between a horse like Spotty who was involved in a horrific traffic accident in 2006 and Charlie who dropped dead on the street several years later.  There is something about the image of a dead horse – helpless and no longer powerful - that resonates with our collective unconscious guilt – where we feel a sense of responsibility for allowing this abuse to continue without speaking up. 

LIE:  The industry is 155 years old.    

TRUTH:  This statement is designed to have people think this is a long and venerable business.  155 years would take us back to 1858 when Central Park was being built.  Everyone used horses then.  The industry as we know it today started in the late 1940s when Mayor William O’Dwyer issued 68 medallions to individuals to operate a horse-drawn carriages.   

LIE: All the horse stalls are box stalls     

TRUTH: A box stall is simply a configuration and says nothing about size.  According to law, the
Oreo - spooked and bolted into traffic - summer 2012
stalls must be at least 60 square feet.
  But this is less than half what experts recommend, which is 144 square feet (12’ x 12’) for a standardbred horse who weighs about 1000 to 1200 pounds; for larger draft breeds who can weigh more than 2,000 pounds, experts recommend at least a 197 square foot stall (14’ x14’).  The space does not exist in the NYC stables to do this properly so the horses are stuck with substandard sized stalls. 

 LIE: The horses get a vacation for at least 5 weeks out of the year.   

TRUTH:    A “vacation” is a human concept.  Horses need daily turnout to pasture, which does not exist in NYC.  So for 47 weeks out of the year, the horses are confined to their small stalls when they are not working on the streets of NYC.  The Department of Health (DoH)  does not require a list of the “farms” where the horses are sent and the ASPCA is not required to inspect them.  According to this article in theNY Post, former ASPCA equine veterinarian Pam Corey said that many of the horses look worse when they return from this vacation.  It was never investigated.  

 Dr. Corey, the director of equine veterinary services of the ASPCA’s humane law-enforcement department, said, “We have observed some horses returning to New York City after furloughs on a farm in worse condition than when they left.”

We have also heard this from others - that the horses are not fed properly when on "vacation" and are returned to NYC thin and unfit, but expected to return to work nine hours a day.  This is truly a travesty and the NYC media must accept much of the blame for perpetuating this nonsense and not fact checking.  

LIE:  The industry is tightly regulated by many City agencies and the ASPCA

TRUTH:  While there are many laws on the books, enforcement is rare.  Because there is generally no one in an official capacity at the hack line, the drivers break the laws with impunity.   And because the Commissioners of the Department of Health and the Department of Consumer Affairs serve at the pleasure of the Mayor, no one wants to rock the boat about bringing violations to the surface.   The ASPCA enforces all animal cruelty laws on a volunteer basis and has fewer than 20 agents.  They are rarely at the hack line or around the streets where the drivers work to observe any violations.  Starting on January 1st, the ASPCA will no longer be involved with this enforcement.  This
Chris - collapsed with carriage falling on him 9/26/13
is a link that shows violations.
LIE:   The industry contributes $15,000.000 annually to the economy.

TRUTH: This is a fabricated and extrapolated piece of information.  No one knows how much the trade contributes in the way of taxes every year because it is a cash only business.  The number was originally put out there by the organization that is promoting electric cars to show how their industry would compare against the carriages.  But it is a puffed up estimate and cannot be confirmed or validated.  It is suspected that the industry reports far less income than it takes in and thus pays less in taxes. 

LIE: Blue Star Equiculture (BSE) is the “official and guaranteed” retirement home for NYC carriage horses.

TRUTH: Currently BSE lists only one former NYC carriage horse on their site.  Further the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages published a 7 ½ year study that revealed a turnover of 529 horses in the NYC carriage trade over this time period.  This is a link to the study, which includes raw data from the DoH. 

LIE:   Tourists love this iconic ride

TRUTHIt is not only New Yorkers who want this inhumane and unsafe business to be gone.  Many tourists agree.  More than 70,000 people signed our first petition from a few years ago supporting a ban.  It included eople from all 50 states and more than 55 countries.   Tourists continue to tell us that they avoid the Central Park South area because they do not want to see the horses – it is so troubling to them.  

Every online poll done since 2006 has resulted in between 75 and 80 percent of respondents voting in favor of a ban on horse-drawn carriages in NYC. 

Our current online petition has more than 130,000 signatures on a petition in support of the Avella/Rosenthal bill to ban horse-drawn carriages in NYC.     

LIE:  There are 300 carriage drivers in this industry that will be affected by job loss. 

TRUTH:  While there are close to 300 licenses, many of those holding them are part timers or live  in other states and countries.  According to Steve Malone of the NYC Carriage Association, there are between 150 and 160 active drivers.

In addition, the drivers have turned down alternate businesses such as retrofitting their carriages (and retiring the horses) or vintage replica electric cars.  This is a tiny industry and the City of NY should stop being held hostage by a small handful of people.  Enough is enough.  Many people have lost their jobs in the last several years – ranging from municipal workers to corporate workers to those who worked in businesses affected by redevelopment and gentrification.  No one in the City Council or NYC government created a special industry for them.  Things change, businesses become obsolete.  People need to find new means of making a living -- to retrain for new opportunities.

Oreo's carriage - summer 2012
There are no arguments that are justified here to defend this abusive and dangerous trade.  It needs to stop.  The best alternative business that can happen in a relatively short period of time is retrofitting carriages such as these produced by Andres Carriages.

The electric cars do not exist, are prohibitively expensive,  and are not a realistic alternative.   Let's all (both sides) get beyond this Emperor's New Clothes saga and move on and deal with reality.  deBlasio needs to shut the industry down as promised.  The owners can either accept retrofitting their carriages or get nothing.

LIE:  Safety is a non-issue

TRUTH: Safety is a huge issue.   These horses weigh between 1500 and 2000 pounds.  As prey animals they are nervous and predictably unpredictable; can spook at the slightest provocation and cause havoc – becoming unwitting weapons – can injure or kill themselves or passerby.  Dragging a slow moving flimsy carriage through the congested traffic of NYC is a recipe for disaster.

There have been about 18 accidents in the last few years that we know about. It might well be more because the drivers are not required to report them to the NYPD; and even if the NYPD is called on the scene, they, too, are not required to write a report.  We believe that many more happen and unless something is done, it is just a matter of time before a human dies.  It has happened in other cities. 

Horse-drawn carriages should not be allowed on the streets of NYC – or in Central Park  They are a danger to themselves and innocent bystanders. 

LIE :  Since 1981 not one horse-drawn cab owner or driver has been convicted of a cruelty charge.

TRUTH:  This statement is absurd and begs the following response:
What happened before 1981 – was someone arrested for animal cruelty?  After all, the industry claims they have been in existence for 155 years. 
This is like asking people to vote for a candidate because he does not beat his wife.  Very low standards. 
As already mentioned, there is little enforcement of this trade – however there have been many violations recorded by the DCA and 311. 

Most recently, it was learned that the driver of Chris, the carriage horse who collapsed while going to work on September 26, 2013 was charged with double shifting and overcharging his customers.  Double shifting is when a driver keeps a horse working for more than the legally allowed 9 hours.  See this report.       

LIE:  The buildings in which the horses live are outfitted with high-pressure fire sprinklers, pro-actively installed and paid for by the carriage owners, in the absence of any law stating they must have them.

TRUTH:  Two previous city council bills requiring sprinklers in the stables were killed.  Because there is no law requiring sprinklers in the horse stables, it is not known if they are adequate, installed correctly,  or even if they exist. 

horse parked over steaming manhole cover 2013
Further, the stables are a firetrap.  If there were a fire on the upper floors, there would be no way for the horses to get out.  They would panic.  There is also only one means of egress in the stables. 

LIE:  Those who oppose the horse-drawn carriage trade know nothing about horses while the drivers have a lot of experience and are the experts. 

TRUTH:   One does not have to “own” horses to know that this practice is wrong.  Many people who have a lot of experience with horses are opposed to this abusive trade.  They include horse rescuers, veterinarians, horse owners and just people who have compassion for animals.  Besides so called “experience” means nothing.  Michael Vick had a lot of experience with dogs and he ended up serving time in prison for his bad actions.


Sunday, November 10, 2013



horse spooked and carriage fell on him - NYC 9/26/13 
Ban or Not? The NYC carriage drivers believe and hope that there will not be a ban of their inhumane and unsafe horse-drawn carriage business that has clogged up the streets of midtown NYC for years; caused numerous accidents involving human and horse injuries; horse deaths and property damage – besides rattling the nerves of bystanders who quickly moved aside when spooked horses ran up on the sidewalks.    They have dodged the bullet many times, avoiding human deaths.  But human deaths involving horse-drawn carriages have happened elsewhere and it is only a matter of time before it happens here if this dangerous business is allowed to continue.   

It has always been incumbent upon the Administration to address human safety issues.  But past administrations did not want to rock the boat and looked the other way.

Lies, Corruption  and Entitlements:  The drivers continue to put out misinformation about the number of horse deaths, accidents, how long they have been in business;  how simply wonderful their business is and how the horses are delighted to be slaves.   And the media eats it up.  After all, why shouldn't they believe they would win?  They have a history of enjoying an entitled business with perks that included very low rent on city owned stables; renovation of that same stable paid for with tax dollars; a Council Speaker who is cousin to a horse-carriage owner – and who used his influence accordingly; a Deputy Mayor married to a horse-carriage trade lobbyist – and that is just the main points of what we know. 

So let’s stop the corruption and start with a fresh slate.  The majority of people want to see this business shut down.  Every online poll taken since 2006 has resulted in between 75 and 80% of respondents favoring a ban.  In Bill deBlasio, we elected a true progressive who won by 73% - a landslide.  This is  someone who included a humane city for NYC animals in his platform.  That has never happened before.   

Vintage Electric Cars are a Myth:  Mayor-Elect deBlasio has promised that he would shut down the carriage trade almost immediately and we hope he keeps his word.   It will be logistically challenging.  I have communicated this to him in person and in writing why a ban of this business must not be dependent on the success of another privately owned risky vanity business – the phantom so called "vintage electric cars."   One really has nothing to do with the other.  He appeared  to understand  yet continues to talk about the non-existent vintage electric cars --  on his  web site and during a televised debate.  This is very troublesome.  These cars have been promised for five years and have never materialized. 

If deBlasio makes one dependent on the other, there will be no ban. 

Besides being far too expensive – approximately $175,000 per car -  the carriage drivers have said they are not interested.  So even if it were to happen, it is not a “job substitute” for the carriage drivers.  It is simply another business.  

And even if somehow the cars existed, a phase-out would be the worst thing to do.  The ill conceived plan was to retire 1/3 of the horse-drawn carriages or medallions  - 23 the first year and roll out 23 cars -- continuing over three years.  This means that  the industry would still have a foothold to cause trouble such as filing lawsuits.    What happens if tourists (possibly set ups ) still choose the horse- carriages? 

The smartest thing to do is to shut them down at one time – phasing them out over six months to give time to place the horses.  

But three years is a guarantee a ban will not happen and this is not what any of us signed up for. 

Jobs?  If Mayor-Elect deBlasio is concerned about the jobs issue, the best solution is the retrofitted battery operated horse carriages such as those already produced by Andres Carriage Tours.  The cost of this process is $15,000 to $20,000 per carriage.  Every carriage and medallion would remain – including the same horse-drawn carriage business model.  This should appeal to the owners who would continue to be autonomous.  But they have not accepted this idea either.  Since the horses are privately owned and the City cannot compel the owners to hand them off to anyone, perhaps money could be made available to retrofit the carriages in exchange for the horses. 

The electric cars will not be allowed in Central Park because they are motorized vehicles.  Runners, bikers and others who use the park roads do not want cars going through the park and should rightfully put up a fuss if they were allowed.    So why would someone pay $50 to $100 to ride in one and sit in a traffic jam on Central Park South  just like any other frustrated person in a private car or taxi?   

Am I missing something here?  In so many ways, this is a ludicrous not well thought out idea. 

It  is also true that the retrofitted carriages may not be allowed  to go into Central Park either because they will be motorized.  But I believe an exception is much more likely for them than the cars because of the way they look.

NYC:  Stop being held hostage!  All that said –  is the City once again getting caught up with allowing the carriage trade to hold them hostage?    The driver/owners have known for years that their days were numbered – the  Hudson Yards Redevelopment Project covers the stables on W. 37th and W. 38th St., which means they would be demolished at some point.  Their business has fallen off over the years due to the popularity of the pedicabs; increased rates -- $50 for only 20 minutes; and the ground swell of popular opinion against them. 

All of us know people who have lost jobs – whether they worked for retail establishments that were shut down because of redevelopment and gentrification of neighborhoods; government workers; or private industry.  Has the City stepped up and created jobs for all of those people?  

Not that I recall. 

No it is not pleasant to have to change your line of work and recreate yourself – but many people have been forced to do just that with no help from the City of NY.  So why are these people different?  Why are they so special.  Answer is they are not. 

The Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages  - -  started this campaign in January 2006.  Unlike the others, we are not in this to make money off the backs of horses  or off  a vanity industry.  We just want to remove the horses from harm's way - the streets of NYC - and see that they get good homes.  

We hope Mayor-Elect deBlasio does the right thing about the horses and shuts the business down soon as he promised.  Only time will tell.