A bill to ban horse and buggy rides - a campaign promise of Mayor Bill de Blasio - was introduced at New York City Council on Monday as supporters and opponents rallied outside city hall.
Under the bill to phase out the rides, which the mayor called inhumane, the city would offer carriage drivers training and licensing fee waivers to drive taxis in Manhattan's four neighboring boroughs.
But union officials at Monday's rally said that carriage drivers would have a hard time adjusting to driving cars. The proposed ban, they said, would mean the loss of 300 jobs and could lead to horses being sent to slaughterhouses.
"For over 130 years this industry has provided a way of life and we don't plan to let that way of life go away," George Miranda, head of Teamsters Joint Council 16 told dozens of drivers and union officials gathered in front of city hall who waved placards with slogans such as "Say neigh to the horse carriage ban."
Supporters of the ban said horses suffer in extreme temperatures and heavy traffic. Three horses have died in traffic accidents in the past 30 years.
"Animals just do not belong on the streets of New York City," Councilman Daniel Dromm of Queens, who introduced the bill, told supporters at an outdoor rally.
"We know beyond doubt that using horses to pull tourists through congested city streets for long hours is unnatural, unnecessary and an undeniable strain on the horses' quality of life," said Natasha Whitling, a spokeswoman for the American Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Carriage driver Helio Leite denied that his horse suffers. He said that he follows strict city regulations aimed at protecting horses and that he treats his draft horse of 14 years as a friend.
"I spend more time with my horse than I do with my family," said Leite, who took up carriage driving after immigrating from Brazil 25 years ago. "Of course I treat him well because I depend on him for my livelihood."
No date has been set for a required City Council hearing on the bill.
(Reporting by Sascha Brodsky; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Eric Walsh)