Category: Archive

Support for horse-drawn fare increase growing

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

“There are individuals who seek to shut down this service based upon inaccurate information,” said David Weprin, a Democrat who represents Hollis in Queens. “The horse-drawn carriage industry is a staple of New York City’s tourism – it as much a part of this city as the yellow taxicabs that fill our streets.”
As reported in the Echo last week, all five members of the consumer affairs committee indicated that they couldn’t back Tony Avella’s proposal to ban the industry. Now with that measure apparently losing ground, the horse-drawn carriage industry is pushing for its counter demand of a fare increase, the first in 19 years.
Said Ian McKeever, a Navan, Co. Meath-born member of Teamsters Local 553: “We have always been a friendly face and source for visitors to get information and tips on where to go and what to see in the city, therefore enhancing not only their Central Park experience, but also their Big Apple experience.”
But McKeever added that the cost of hay, for example, had gone up 600 percent since the last increase in 1989. Feed, grain, veterinary care and overall stable costs had also gone up considerably in those years.
Horse carriage workers and their supporters distributed leaflets Sunday entitled “Let Us Get a Rate We Can Live With.”
Said Demos Demopoulos, secretary-treasurer of Local 553, the oldest local union in the International Brotherhood of Teamsters: “The men and women who drive the carriages are well-trained, skilled and completely dedicated to fulfilling all of the public and obligations and responsibilities of their jobs, especially where it concerns their precious horses.”
Demopoulos’s local represents fuel workers in the city, such as those that deliver and maintain fuel facilities at Kennedy Airport. The Local that joined the Teamsters a century ago, he said, delivered coal.
Of the horse-drawn carriage workers who joined recently, he said: “My union is proud to represent them and help in fighting for their cause and to protect working families.”
Demopoulos told the Echo that his parents came from Greece and Germany after World War II. “That’s why I can relate to the immigrant aspect of this,” he said.
“It’s an honorable industry of people who work with their hands,” former Woodside City Councilman Walter McCaffrey told the Echo. “People think it’s not unimportant. But it’s their livelihood.”
Surveying the scene, Colm McKeever, brother of Ian, said of Weprin’s appearance: “It’s great to see such a pragmatic council member, one who sees right through the misinformation.”
McKeever was minding his 6-year-old horse Phoenix, which is on an 18-week cycle — nine weeks working in Central Park and nine weeks on a farm in Pennsylvania. He said that groups like PETA object to the very idea of a horse pulling a carriage. “But when ordinary people hear or read the word ‘cruelty’ they think something sinister is going on in the stable,” he said.
McKeever, who has worked in the industry for 18 years, said: “It’s so frustrating. We’re constantly put on the defensive by this misinformation.
“But we’re an open book,” said McKeever, who grew up with horses on his family’s Navan, Co. Meath, farm.
He said that some press stories had reprinted facts that had simply been invented by animal-rights extremists, such as the number of working horses that had died in recent times. Ten was one figure mentioned in reports. Industry workers say that one died in a nationally publicized accident in 2007, and two more succumbed to colic.
The County Meath native said that he and his colleagues put up with a great deal of harassment in the weeks leading up to the hearing for Avella’s bill, which coincided with the Christmas and holiday period. “It was dreadful,” he recalled. “They were terribly abusive.”
He said that children who were taking rides with their parents were visibly upset and some were crying. “Their [the activists’] behavior was inappropriate around children. But they don’t care,” McKeever said.

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