Manhattan’s carriage horse industry is being faced with two alternatives: substantial modifications or costly restrictions for an industry on the verge of complete obsolescence. The other day, members of Teamsters Union Local 553 and animal rights activists exchanged heated words and related contentiousness at a hearing before the City Council’s Consumer Affairs Committee. While one side argued for job protection the other argued for animal protection…neither side came away very happy.

Under discussion is whether or not carriage horses receive an annual five-week vacation while their drivers receive their first pay increase in 20 years. However, more rigorous activists are demanding that horse carriages be limited to Central Park; hence, not exposing horses to the dangers of vehicular traffic. The industry argues that this may be good for horses but bad for business by limiting the scenic qualities of the carriage ride.

Most of the council members at the hearing indicated that they supported an industry-backed bill that would require better working and living conditions for the horses and would increase the rate a horse carriage driver could charge to $50 for a half-hour ride, from $34.

The industry-backed bill, sponsored by Councilman James F. Gennaro of Queens and others, has the support of the Bloomberg administration, and a deputy health commissioner spoke in its favor on Friday.

Opposed to all of this is Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito who is pushing a bill to phase out horse carriages entirely and replace them with antique automobiles by 2012. She insists that this move would make NYC a leader in “eco-tourism” and the motorized vehicles (or horseless carriages) could be operated by current carriage drivers…their hands on the wheel rather than the reins, in this day and age of horsepower.

NY Times