One hundred years after the automobile replaced the need for most horses in New York, there's a new model of car that some hope does away with horses in the city just about entirely, but with new questions emerging about the viability of the cars, no one is giving up the horses' reins yet. NY1's Josh Robin filed the following report.
An eight-passenger, battery-powered 20th-century nostalgia car, with 84 horsepower, but without a horse. And it's careering right into a 21st-century political demolition derby.
"All fights are difficult, and I'm not a giver-upper," said City Councilman Daniel Dromm of Queens.
The prototype is built by a politically connected group that sees horse carriages as cruel. The plan is for drivers to basically switch the carriages for cars.
However, major questions remain unanswered, like who will foot the estimated $150,000 price tag that each car carries. A City Council sponsor left open the possibility of a taxpayer subsidy.
"This is about animal rights," said City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez of Manhattan. "This is about letting our New Yorkers know that we need to give our horses a place where they can rest."
Then, there's the weight. At 7,000 pounds, it's around five times heavier than a horse. That has some wondering if there's any safety benefit for humans. It's also raising questions about whether the car would require a long federal safety review.
"It's a very heavy vehicle, and I imagine propelling it is going to take a lot of electricity," said Robert Sinclair of AAA New York.
Finally, a political question. Is there enough support? The council members say the votes are there, but polls show most New Yorkers want the horses to stay.
His own favorability ratings sagging, Mayor Bill de Blasio is greenlighting the car. Those behind it helped his candidacy.
"It is a cleaner, better, more humane approach that obviously will also provide employment opportunities and will be good for our tourism industry," the mayor said. "So that's how we'll proceed."
Needless to say, among the carriage drivers parked along Central Park South, there are some choice words for the cars. Some of them are euphemisms for the stuff that the animals leave behind.
"It's just going to be more large vehicles making turns off of Ninth Avenue, having to deal with pedestrians and everything like that," said horse carriage driver Christina Hansen. "I really don't see anybody being like, 'Yay, more cars in New York.'"
The City Council bill authorizing the ban isn't yet written. That's promising more twists in this story.