NEW YORK – New York's pedicab operators say they were the unwitting victims of some political horse trading.
In an angry protest Tuesday, the city's bicycle taxi drivers charged that their most lucrative routes pedaling tourists through Central Park were outlawed without their knowledge as part of the city's deal to overhaul the popular horse carriage industry.
"This is pretty outrageous, and totally unwarranted," said Robert Tipton, whose company, called Mr. Rickshaw, operates 29 pedicabs. "It's a concession to the carriage-horse industry, with the city saying, we're going to reduce your numbers, but in return, we're going to hurt your competition."
The plan was announced over the weekend by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who took office vowing to ban horse carriages from Manhattan on the grounds that they were inhumane.
His proposal would reduce the number of carriages operating in the park and eventually bar them from Manhattan streets, but it would also protect their turf. Public funds would be used to move the steeds to a refurbished stable within the park and shut down the current private stables on Manhattan's West Side.
But in exchange for slimming down their carriage fleets, the mayor also offered the horsemen an effective monopoly over the southern end of Central Park by barring pedicabs from operating south of 85th Street.
The deal, which must still be approved by City Council, would restrict the operations of pedicabs starting in June.
Tipton said 60 percent of all pedicab business is in the section of the park where the rides will now be banned.
"The city is creating a monopoly, where the only option is to take a carriage," said Tipton.
On Tuesday, the protesting pedicab drivers — many of whom are recent immigrants from West Africa, Tajikistan, Russia and other countries — issued a statement saying de Blasio wants "to exile us out of Central Park without discussing it with us first."
Questioned on Monday about why the deal on carriage horses included restrictions on pedicab drivers, de Blasio told journalists that "we had to make an adjustment in terms of the pedicabs for balance, and I think it's a fair outcome."
The negotiations that led to the deal were between the city and a Teamsters union local representing carriage horse drivers. The pedicab industry wasn't part of those talks, drivers said.
Animal welfare activists say the horses are in danger during daily walks between the park and four private stables. They have also lodged many complaints about the lack of outdoor areas for the horses to graze and relax between work shifts — a problem that wouldn't be solved by relocating the horses to the park stable.
The compromise deal would reduce the number of steeds from about 180 to 95, operating from new stables built in the park by October 2018, with room for 68 carriages and 75 horses. The remaining horses rotate on furloughs outside the city.
Steven Geary, one of about 350 licensed pedicab drivers in the city, said he would lose more than half his income without the Central Park rides.
He and fellow drivers will still be allowed to roll through the rest of Manhattan, but the tourist experience there is less than ideal, Geary said.
"We get stuck in midtown traffic, with car drivers screaming at you because we're not allowed to use bicycle lanes," he said.