We Debate: Should Central Park Get Rid of Its Horse Carriages?

New York City Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio plans to ban Central Park's horse-drawn carriages. Should he? We debate!

This article is from the archive of our partner .

New York City Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio plans to ban Central Park's horse-drawn carriages. Should he? We debate!

Keep the horse-drawn carriages

Eric Levenson

This proposed ban is nothing more than politics as usual. The plan to ban the horse-drawn carriages is being led by NYCLASS, an animal-rights group that has pushed against what they see as harsh treatment of the horses. NYCLASS was a major campaign ally of de Blasio, as earlier this year founder Stephen Nislick was a "major financial backer" of NYC is Not for Sale, a political committee that ran "Anybody But Quinn" TV ads during the mayoral primary. Those ads aided in de Blasio's surprise winning campaign against early mayoral favorite Christine Quinn.

The de Blasio campaign denies that it had anything to do with those donations, but he still repeatedly pandered to the NYCLASS cause and promised to outlaw the horse-drawn carriages to curry their favor. And then earlier this month, de Blasio received a bronze horse statue at a private NYCLASS fundraiser that raised $100,000 in donations. Nothing here is against campaign finance law, to be sure, but it does reek of the power of political money. NYCLASS donates to bring down a political rival for their own narrow interest, and then immediately sees its plan come into fruition. If you think those types of moneyed interests should be rewarded politically, then by all means, support the ban on horse-drawn carriages. But if questionable political favors rub you the wrong way, oppose the de Blasio-NYCLASS ban.

Yes, at $50 for a 20-minute ride the carriage excursions through Central Park are a massive tourist trap. But tourists are people, too, and we should not deny their right to be ripped off. What is a trip to New York if not a chance to indulge in costly expenses? The horse-drawn carriage is as much a part of the New York City trip as is a $27 per-person climb to the top of the Empire State Building or a $9 beer at Yankee Stadium. It's what makes New York New York. These all bring business to the city, and those carriage rides specifically rake in $19 million a year. That's a hefty sum to replace.

The NYCLASS group does hope to replace that $19 million with "antique-electric-car rides," but that will come with the loss of respect for the horse's power. Seeing a massive, 8-foot-tall beast of an animal helps bring some needed perspective to humanity. We are but small, weak creatures in the grand scheme of Earth. A trip to the zoo isn't always possible, but a glimpse of a trotting one-ton horse gives New Yorkers a good understanding of the beauty and strength of a majestic steed.

Hell, even Seinfeld played on the joke when Kramer became a carriage rider for a day. If you hate the horse-drawn carriage, you hate Seinfeld. And if you hate Seinfeld, well, no soup for you. (There may be Beef-A-Roni, though.)

This is not to say that the horses don't deserve better treatment. Working nine-hour shifts is too demanding, and the city should punish riders of mistreated horses. These would be helpful changes toward improving their lives. But banning them outright goes too far. For the sake of  anti-cronyism, respect for animal strength, tourists, and business, oppose the ban on horse-drawn carriages.

What even are you talking about

Philip Bump

It took me a bit to respond to this because I got to the part where you call NYCLASS a "moneyed interest" and laughed for 45 minutes. By October, de Blasio'd pulled in $9.45 million for his general election campaign, thanks in large part to people who could offer NYCLASS $100-grand every day of the year and still have enough for penthouse duplexes overlooking those Central Park horse carriages.

Setting the Seinfeld and "majestic steed" arguments aside — mostly since they don't exactly demand rebuttal — let's dig into your argument. You are saying that the incoming mayor of the largest city in the country is returning a political favor to a group that is associated with another group that ran a (really crappy) early primary ad against a candidate that he ended up beating by a margin of 25 percentage points? "Oh, I couldn't have completely demolished Christine Quinn if that one guy from that horse group hadn't run that ad, I better follow up on that pledge I made months before the ad ran to get rid of the horses in Central Park." Yeah, probably that's what's happening.

Here's the thing about the horses in Central Park: horses shouldn't be wandering around one of the most densely-packed parts of New York City. That's the extremely short version of the story; 59th Street — the southern border of Central Park, for those not familiar — is always choked with people and cars. It's a hub of activity. Cabs, trying to find space, cut in front of horses as they stand curbside. Trucks honk; idiot tourists do their idiot thing. It's loud, dirty, and alarming enough for people. A quick Google search shows the aftermath of the tumult: terrified horses bolting into trees, being struck by cars, being abused.

The job itself is terrible on the horses, actual abuse aside. Their caretakers are not cockney cabbies that groom their mares and comb out their manes under the flickering light of an oil lamp each night. They're hustlers who regularly overcharge passengers, run as many circuits through the park as possible each day, and drop filthy buckets of food in front of the animals to be fought over with pigeons. At the end of the day, horses stumble back to their stables tucked in Manhattan's busy side streets. Here's a Google Street View image of one, about a block from the busy West Side Highway. Charmingly rustic!

I realize it wasn't that long ago that you, too, were a tourist in our fair city, so allow me to explain something about tourists: Screw tourists. If someone decides against coming to New York City because they can't pay $100 for a guy to throw them into the back of a dirty carriage and tell them misinformation about the history of Central Park, then fine. Stay home. The Central Park horse carriages are no more representative of old New York than Epcot Center is representative of America's near future. Here is a stat I made up but I would imagine is correct: 94 percent of the people who take Central Park carriage rides do so after having just come back from FAO Schwarz, where they asked to see the piano from Big. New York's job isn't to conform to what tourists think New York it supposed to be; it's to be New York and wring out tourists' wallets with our sheer goddamn authenticity.

Bill de Blasio wants to get rid of horse carriages because they've overstayed their welcome for about five decades. If you want to ride a horse, make a few million on Wall Street and move to Connecticut. And don't come back.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.