The lucrative Easter weekend for New York City’s horse-drawn carriage operators is just a few days off. But, Easter will not be a blessing for the harnessed horses who pull overloaded carriages through heavy traffic to satisfy greedy drivers capitalizing on holiday tourism.
Easter Sunday (April 8) stands to be a Bonanza for Carriage Industry, Buyer Beware!
“It is not unusual for New York City carriage drivers to overcharge and cheat their customers, according to a recent Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) response,” said Elizabeth Forel of the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages. “This new information raises even more troubling concerns and questions about inhumane practices and overcharging in this cash-only business operating with minimal oversight by city agencies.”
Callers to the City’s 311 line from 2009 to 2011 made numerous complaints about danger, unsafe/inhumane practices and possible alcohol use by drivers. And numerous instances of overcharging are documented. The information in this FOIL response was provided by Jay Damashek, senior managing attorney, office of the General Counsel, New York City Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications, and can be seen here. www.tinyurl.com/311horses
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This March 21, 2012, video shows a deliberate violation of the overloading law. The consumer shows no concern for the welfare for the animal or the fact that she is aiding and abetting a crime. Instead she threatens the activist who exposes the violation!
EXPLOITATION IGNORED--OR ALLOWED--BY NYC OFFICIALS?
Official oversight of the carriage industry is shared by the Department of Consumer Affairs and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) also has enforcement authority; however, its involvement is voluntary and limited.
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The ASPCA has stated repeatedly in recent years that New York City streets cannot be made safe for the operation of horse-drawn carriages. The organization states on its website, “In addition to the dangers of working in congested areas, these horses spend their days directly behind cars, trucks and buses, inhaling their fumes…Neither the New York City environment nor the current law can provide horses with the fundamental necessities to ensure their safety and well being.” Yet, The NYC carriage trade boasts they have never been charged with animal cruelty, which in the case of horses would only be a misdemeanor--not even a felony.
Particularly concerning is the ASPCA’s apparent unwillingness, as a voluntary “overseer,” to issue violations or even to report known accidents. It has refused repeated Coalition requests for a list of accidents. “As an organization that operates outside the purview of city government, the ASPCA is not subject to Freedom of Information Law,” Forel said.
In addition to overcharging on the hack line, the “industry,” which consists of only 160 full timers, also overcharges on various web sites. City agencies have been provided with video and online advertising that clearly demonstrates the extent of practices endangering the horses and public, and overcharging by the carriage industry, with their usual lack of response.
WHAT IS ALLOWED:
The rate (per legislation passed in 2010) is $50 for 20 minutes and $20 for each additional 10 minutes. The law does NOT provide for special or seasonal rates.
WHAT IS HAPPENING:
The law, however, does not deter the following companies from overcharging and trying to give the impression that they are the “official” NYC site:
NY Central Park Tours (Tours from $85 - $200)
Central Park Horses (Tours from $100 - $250)
Some complaints taken from the 311 call logs:
--“carriage number is 1132. Caller states he clearly smelled alcohol on the driver”
-- “carriage driver was backing up the horse carriage from the right lane to the left lane in the middle of oncoming traffic. Cars were zooming by and dangerously swerving away”
--“the horse drawn carriage ran a red light”
--“driver told him the rate was $50.00 for 10 minutes”
--“driver insisted for $50 and the ride was only about 11 minutes”
--“rode the carriage “for 28 minutes and was charged $60. License # 126127
--“driver indicated a tip of 20% was mandatory; stable name, Jimmy; driver’s name, Oscar; license # 1085
--“after 15 minutes, the driver made them get off and charged full price”
--“Selling the rides for $50 or more for whoever would pay the highest for the ride. The driver was picking people out of turn and the customers made to wait 5 turns because of his overcharging.”
Department of Consumer Affairs Violations
Also obtained from a Freedom of Information request were the Department of Consumer Affairs cited violations for the time period January 1, 2009 to December 31, 2011. These, not surprisingly, included horse in harness for more than 10 hours; horse improperly treated; carrying more than 4 passengers, operating a cab while intoxicated, abandon/improper driver, improper maximum rate sign, no daily log kept, failure to produce consumer receipt book.
View DCA complaints here. http://tinyurl.com/CarriageViolationsNYC
Compounding the issues of consumer deception and improper treatment of working horses, this industry is riddled with other problems. A recent Horse Sense newsletter from the Coalition discussed a few; among them, current law does not require or encourage accountability as to what happens to horses when they can no longer pull a carriage, and questionable and/or fictitious industry claims about horse “vacations.”
Donny Moss, activist/filmmaker, who won an HSUS Genesis Award in 2009 for “Blinders—the Movie,” states, “In the years since I started working on this campaign, I have never seen the Department of Consumer Affairs out in the streets. Like the ASPCA, which turns a blind eye to the cruelty violations, the Department of Consumer Affairs fails to enforce its regulations. In the absence of law enforcement, the NYC horse and buggy drivers have no reason to obey the law. So they don't.” www.blindersthemovie.com
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