New York deal on horse-drawn carriages collapses in blow to mayor

By Laila Kearney and Joseph Ax

By Laila Kearney and Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A plan to rein in New York City's horse-drawn carriages, a long-time Central Park tourist attraction, has collapsed after the labor union that helped negotiate the deal withdrew its support, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Thursday.

The abrupt reversal came just one day before the City Council was set to vote on a bill that would have cut the number of carriage horses from 220 to 95.

The change of heart was a political setback for de Blasio, who pledged during his 2013 campaign to eliminate the carriages that carry tourists around the sprawling, 778-acre park in the heart of Manhattan.

The Teamsters local that represents carriage drivers had worked with de Blasio to craft a compromise that stopped short of a total ban. It said on Thursday it could no longer support the legislation.

"With the legislation now finalized, our members are not confident that it provides a viable future for their industry," union President George Miranda said.

The union did not elaborate and representatives could not be reached immediately for comment.

Earlier in the week, the union had said the bill, while imperfect, would "preserve this industry."

In a statement, de Blasio said the Teamsters had backed away even though nothing had changed and vowed to "work toward a new path on this issue."

Animals rights activists and de Blasio have said the industry is not humane because it forces horses to pull carriages through crowded city streets between stables on Manhattan's far westside and the park. Polls show the carriages are popular among New Yorkers.

Under the bill, horse-drawn carriages, which currently offer limited rides on city streets, would have been prohibited from doing so. The city would also have converted a portion of the park into a stable to house all carriage horses by October 2018.

Carriage drivers had warned the legislation would cost them their livelihood while increasing the workload for the remaining horses.

"We're so excited," said carriage driver Christina Hansen, 35, referring to the current deal's demise. "Instead of waiting to see what our fate is going to be tomorrow, we can go out and drive our horses in Central Park like we want to."

The legislation also drew criticism from park advocates, who said the proposed stable would result in clogged park pathways.

Pedicab drivers also opposed the deal because it would have barred them from the southern part of the park where most of their fares originate. The restriction would have given the horse-drawn carriages a monopoly in that section.

"Today is a good day," said pedicab driver Alex Sultonov, 26, while soliciting for customers at the edge of the park.

(Reporting by Laila Kearney and Joseph Ax; editing by Alden Bentley, Tom Brown and David Gregorio)