Mayor Bill de Blasio says he is moving ahead to ban horse-drawn carriages from the city, but new questions are being raised over what would replace the rides: a fleet of battery-powered vehicles modeled after antique cars. NY1's Josh Robin spoke with one of the few people with experience in the business and filed the following exclusive report.
If they ban horses from Central Park, what takes their place?
"I believe the electric cars, the replica old-fashioned electric cars, are going to be a great solution," Mayor Bill de Blasio said on March 21.
The idea is the animals would leave the city and drivers would ferry tourists not with horsepower, but battery power.
On the road, you could say it would look something like Mr. Toad's Tours of San Francisco, seen as the only eco-friendly big city tour in antique replicas. It ran on propane.
The company folded after eight years, losing money even as its owners said it was highly popular.
"By the eighth year, we had five cars in service, and in the summertime, our tours were always pre-sold," said Eric Lundquist, who owned Mr. Toad's Tours. "It was very, very successful."
The problem was how expensive they were to build and and maintain.
Lundquist said that the idea could work here, but offered caution.
"If they come out of the gate and stumble after four or five months, or don't have the battery charge or anything else, then where are you?" said
"There are, of course, differences. Still, what happened in San Francisco raises the prospect that the cars cannot replace the horses here without some kind of financial help, be it from private sources or from taxpayers.
Via Skype from his office in Florida, developer Jason Wenig predicted profit. He said that his cars are superior to the ones run in Mr. Toad's.
"Please understand that I'm on the car side, not on the business side, or certainly not on the activist side, but I've seen some of the numbers, and there is a lot of people that come through New York City, there's a lot of people who enjoy these types of rides," Wenig said.
Not everyone. Horse drivers are opposed. Others want fewer cars in Central Park, no matter how slow.
Wenig is being paid by a politically savvy group sparring with drivers to end carriage rights. It sees horse-drawn carriages as a cruel relic.
In that fight, he sees a lesson from the time cars first bumped along dusty streets. People also had to choose.
"Do I want to maintain my horse, or do I want to try this new crazy contraption called an automobile? This is that moment in time," Wenig said.