The end of the road for New York’s horse-drawn carriages?

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New York (AFP) – A charming and must-see tourist attraction or a cruel and outdated commercial activity? New York’s horse-drawn carriages have been running since the 19th century, but lawmakers now want to replace them with electric vehicles.

For some, Central Park horseback riding is as much a part of the fabric of the Big Apple as yellow cabs and Broadway shows.

But for others, rental horses are not in keeping with the spirit of a leading progressive city in 21st-century America.

“Manhattan is probably the worst place in the world to have a work horse, in traffic, noise, pollution, terrible heat and terrible conditions,” says Councilman Robert Holden, who introduced a bill to replace animals with animals without horses. electronic wagons by June 2024.

Animal rights activists have tried for years to shut down the industry, which comprises 130 drivers who share 68 licenses for roughly 200 horses that live in stables in the city.

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His latest push was given a boost this month by a horse collapse on busy Ninth Avenue that sparked anger after a video showing the driver yelling at the animal to get up went viral on social media.

Taking to Instagram, supermodel Bella Hadid urged lawmakers to pass Holden’s legislation, calling the sightseeing tours “barbaric.”

Opponents say the horses live in cramped conditions, are often malnourished and dehydrated, are spooked by cars on the way to the park and work against their will.

“They are literally treated like machines, and they are not machines,” says Edita Birnkrant, executive director of the anti-horse-drawn carriage group NYCLASS.

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“This shouldn’t be happening in modern New York City.”

Operators say the horses are well cared for and point out that the industry is regulated by the city, with horses and stables subject to inspections by health and sanitation departments.

“They are happy and healthy. You can’t force a 1,500-pound animal to do something it doesn’t want to do,” insists Christina Hansen, who has been driving carriages in New York for 10 years.

The horses are required by law to work no more than nine hours a day and do not operate when temperatures reach 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit) or drop below -7 C.

Migrant drivers

Hansen, 42, who wears a top hat when handling his horse Oreo, says each horse gets at least five weeks of “vacation” on a farm each year.

She says that New York wouldn’t be the same if carriages were banned.

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“We have been in movies and on television. We are as iconic as the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty,” he tells AFP.

In Central Park, where 45-minute rides cost more than $160, opinions are mixed among tourists.

“It’s absolutely immoral,” says British Cailey Tyler, who agrees with the ban.

Marina Perry, from Argentina, has no problem with rides as long as the horses are well treated.

“It’s a cultural aspect of New York City that has been around for generations,” he says.

Hansen says the industry is “predominantly an immigrant business,” with drivers from 20 countries, including Italy, Ireland, Turkey, Brazil and Mexico. They can earn around $100,000 a year.

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Holden’s bill has 14 sponsors and needs 26 votes to pass. Activists hope a vote will take place in October.

Passing the law, however, will be difficult, with drivers backed by the city’s powerful transport workers’ union.

Hansen says “no one wants to drive an electric golf cart,” but Holden insists drivers will earn more from electric carts because they can work in any weather.

“It’s clean technology. It’s win-win,” he says.

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