Horse-drawn carriages in Central Park could be replaced by electric vehicles

CENTRAL PARK — Another effort to ban horse-drawn carriages from Central Park is taking shape in City Council — winning support from several lawmakers whose districts border the park, while others are critical of their proposed replacement.

A bill introduced last month by Queens Councilman Robert Holden would “reduce” horse-drawn carriages from June 2024 by preventing the city from issuing new licenses.

They would then be replaced by “low-speed electric vehicles” which could circle the park at a maximum speed of 3 miles per hour – although they are capable of going up to 25 miles per hour, according to the draft law.

The bill won support from nine other lawmakers, including three lawmakers whose districts border Central Park.

It’s far from the first effort to ban the controversial cars, which have long been targeted by animal rights activists as inhumane. Bill de Blasio was elected mayor in 2013 in part on a promise to ban them “on day one” – but he hasn’t, despite a last-minute push just before leaving office last year.

The potential bans have been fiercely opposed by carriage drivers and their union, who argue the bans would destroy their livelihoods and insist the horses are well cared for.

City Councilman Robert Holden (center) stands with animal rights activists outside City Hall for a rally in July in support of his bill to ban horse-drawn carriages from Central Park. (Courtesy of Animal Wellness Action)

But critics of the cars cite a number of high-profile incidents, such as a June case where a frightened horse galloped into oncoming traffic near Fifth Avenue.

“My bill will save these horses from a lifetime of hardship, increase the income of carriage drivers and create an impressive tourist attraction,” Holden wrote in an op-ed published Wednesday in the Daily News.

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The proposed replacement is criticized

Supporters of the new bill span ideological lines – Holden is a conservative Democrat, while other sponsors include Republican Joann Ariola and socialist Kristin Richardson Jordan.

Richardson Jordan, who represents Harlem, is one of three park-adjacent lawmakers sponsoring the new bill, along with Erik Bottcher of Midtown and Keith Powers of the East Side.

Three other Council members whose districts border the park have not signed the legislation: Shaun Abreu, Diana Ayala and Gale Brewer, whose Upper West Side district also covers Central Park itself.

Brewer told Patch on Thursday that she has long supported efforts to get horses off city streets. But she opposes the new bill for her plan to replace horses with electric vehicles, noting that she drafted the bill that led the city to ban cars from Central Park in 2018.

“I can’t say right now that I want to put the cars back in Central Park,” Brewer said.

The exact specifications of the new vehicles are unclear, although previous proposals have called for old-fashioned carriage-style cars reminiscent of an early 20th-century automobile.

Others have made similar arguments against the bill. Nicole Gelinas, New York Post columnist and Manhattan Institute senior fellow, tweeted that the legislation would create a “massive new rental motor vehicle industry throughout Downtown and Central Park”.

Traffic safety group StreetsPAC echoed the criticism, call bill a “bad idea”.

The Bill is currently pending before the Council’s Health Committee.

Mayor Eric Adams has previously said he would not support banning cars, although a spokesperson told Gothamist last year that he was “open to discussing the matter.”

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Existing horse-drawn carriage drivers would get priority in getting licenses for new vehicles under Holden’s bill – and could potentially buy the electric cars outright. Drivers would receive a going wage set by the city.

Although cars were never banned under the de Blasio administration, the city passed laws to prevent cars from picking up passengers outside of Central Park and to require horses to be driven back to stables when temperatures get too high.

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