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Besides the tall skyscrapers, the crowds and the Mac Store, 59th street 5th avenue in Manhattan this past summer has had a new addition added. Posters, chants, clipboards and horse costumes. NYCLASS has hit the streets hard this summer to stop the abuse in the horse carriage industry.
NYCLASS, New Yorkers for Clean Livable And Safe Streets, is a nonprofit animal welfare and advocacy group started in 2009 committed to improving the quality of life for residents and animals of New York City.
NYCLASS has been along the west side of central park every Saturday afternoon throughout this summer with over a hundred volunteers to protest, sign petitions and educate people on how unsafe and unhealthy it is for the horses to work on New York’s busy polluted streets, dodging traffic and sleeping in stables that do not allow the horses to rest properly for the next day.
There is an estimate of 220 carriage horses,293 drivers and 68 licensed carriages. The unexpected NYC working horse residents work nine hours a day seven days a week in rain, sunshine, blistering cold and in the scolding heat. Unlike us: when we work an eight or nine hour shift we have breaks in-between. NYCLASS and others have seen the horses work nonstop with no well deserved breaks or rest.
Recently, the public’s eyes were open further. In the past three months, two horse drawn carriage accidents took place injuring the horses, the drivers and the tourists who were on the carriages.
Today, NYCLASS has well over 93,996 supporters and hopes the city will soon pass Intro.86 to ban the horse carriages and replace them with eco-friendly electric cars. Unlike the carriages, the electric vehicles will comply with government safety regulations and will be registered with the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. All drivers must obtain driver’s licenses and become licensed tour guides in order to operate the new electric vehicles. Currently, only 50% of the carriage drivers have valid licenses.
The eco-friendly cars will carry liability insurance equivalent to the insurance carried by taxis, black cars, and pedicabs. Horse-drawn carriages are only required to carry $20,000 per carriage in insurance, compared to the $2 million for each pedicab company and the $200,000 for each pedicab. Also, the cars can hold seven passengers at a time, are able to travel up to 10 hours on a single charge, has raised stadium seating, a heating system for the winter months and a convertible top for the spring/summer seasons.
If the transition happens, the horses themselves would be transported to the ASPCA so they can find permanent homes in sanctuaries, farms and private adopters rather than the usual: being sent to slaughter.
But the horse carriage drivers have no smiles on their face when it comes to this alternative, and fear most will lose their jobs.
Allie Feldman, lead organizer of NYCLASS, believes it is more than just the drivers who are afraid they will lose their jobs. She said, “change is scary for these guys, and using cash only they are allowed to charge more for their rides, and with the cars they need to also pay proper taxes, so there is no hiding.”
Indeed the horse carriage industry is a cash only business that also does not use meters. NYCLASS claims on their website that the carriage drivers routinely charge residents and tourists higher rates then what they are requisite. This in turn causes the city to lose revenue and the city already pays hundreds of thousands of dollars to monitor the horses and repair the city streets the carriages damage.
When asked to answer a few questions about the horses and their treatment, several drivers said they wish to not speak. Only one new young female driver, who just started working two months ago, answered some questions. She preferred to be anonymous, but said she was against getting rid of the horses: “I don’t think it would be the same. Would lose business because the children and people love the horses.” She also said she is not aware if the horses receive veterinary care, that only the owner would know. The horses get water every 30 minutes and food three times during the nine hours.
But a lot of bystanders support the movement. On the days the volunteers have protested, many New Yorkers have said to the volunteers they can tell by the horses’ eyes and body language they are not happy.
It is still an ongoing debate and NYCLASS hopes to continue the fight through this coming fall season.
For more information visit www.nyclass.org or www.aspca.org.