NEW YORK (AP) — Mayor Bill de Blasio's long-delayed plans to ban the city's horse carriages are finally moving forward with a bill that phases out the industry by 2016 and dangles a carrot for the soon-to-be unemployed drivers: a career driving a taxi.
That measure was set to be introduced at a City Council meeting next week but it already drew fierce opposition from the 400 drivers and stable hands who say it was an insult to suggest they could be satisfied with another way of life.
"We want to stay in business, and the horse is our business, " said Christina Hansen, a carriage horse driver who claimed de Blasio is ill-informed on the issue. "The mayor still hasn't been to the stables."
During his bid for mayor a year ago, Bill de Blasio repeatedly told supporters that "on Day One" he would end what he saw as the inhumane practice of the colorful coaches clip-clopping their way through Central Park and the surrounding streets.
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito confirmed that the bill currently being drafted with the mayor's support would likely be voted on early next year, and de Blasio said he would not be in favor of further delays.
"We think it's time to end horse carriages in this city and it's time to act on it," he said.
Under the bill, the industry would be phased out by the middle of 2016, with exceptions made for film sets and some parades. The bill would offer job training classes and the waiver of nearly all the fees associated with the license to drive a green taxi, which predominantly pick up passengers outside the heart of Manhattan.
"We're in the tourist field, not the taxi cab business. We don't want to be in the taxi cab business," said driver Stephen Malone, noting that the holiday season was the absolute worst time to push this legislation.
Allie Friedman, head of the group leading the charge to ban the practice, NYCLASS, cheered the news, saying it was "the right creative solution that benefits all New Yorkers by adding jobs while also ending an unsafe and inhumane industry."
That sharp back-and-forth was emblematic of a months-long debate that grew increasingly heated and occupied a bigger and bigger portion of the city's headlines, much to de Blasio's exasperation. The mayor — and the animal welfare activists who donated $1.3 million to his campaign — said the ban should be enacted because the streets of the nation's largest city are no places for horses.
A groundswell of support emerged to save the horses. Actor Liam Neeson led a media blitz that portrayed the industry as an iconic, romantic part of New York that supported many Irish immigrants. A series of city unions — who usually are de Blasio's staunch allies — broke with the mayor, urging him to reconsider his decision in order to save not only the industry's jobs but a profitable source of tourism.
A recent poll revealed that nearly two-thirds of New Yorkers were in favor of keeping the horses at least in Central Park. And The New York Daily News launched a front-page campaign called "Save our Horses" that filled its pages with pro-carriage stories and an online petition that recorded tens of thousands of signatures.