Thursday, February 26, 2009

An outdated and inhumane industry

Includes footage from the documentary "Blinders," by filmmaker Donny Moss
The Humane Society of the United States wants you to know that horse-drawn carriages do not belong on the streets of the nation's busiest city. This inhumane industry endangers horses as well as people.
HSUS supports a ban on horse-drawn carriages in New York City.
Tell Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg that you support a ban on horse-drawn carriages in New York City.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg
City Hall
New York, NY 10007

PHONE 311 (or 212-NEW-YORK outside NYC)
FAX (212) 312-0700

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Let the tourist beware

Rule #1: Don't believe everything you're told
New York City purports to welcome tourists with open arms, yet it places the burden of consumer protection squarely on the shoulders of the visitors. A good example is the horse-drawn carriage industry. The Department of Consumer Affairs disregards the common overcharging of tourists by drivers of horse-drawn carriages--and the carriage industry is cash-only. Given free rein to behave badly, this reckless industry takes every advantage.

Look no further than the website of the Horse & Carriage Association of New York. This industry site misleads tourists before they even get on the airplane or step out of the hotel room. It states, "Rides are approximately $34 for a 20-minute ride tour through Central Park." Approximately? Twenty minutes? The law is clear. The legally allowable fare, as written in the Administrative Code (Title 20, Section 380), is $34 for the first half-hour. This is the law, and the rates must be displayed on the carriage (make sure the sign isn't covered up, and do take a look). There is no sales tax on rides!

What gives? The city of New York is not looking out for tourists, a population that apparently is deemed to be an easy target (here for a week, wide-eyed, and then gone, perhaps never to return).

If you have been overcharged for a ride in a horse-drawn carriage, call 311 and report the circumstances. Also file a complaint with the DCA. However, given the DCA's apathy around overcharging of tourists, you may wish to make a complaint to the state Attorney General, Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau, at 212-416-8345.

Your willingness to file a complaint will be pivotal in making sure that other tourists don't get overcharged. Help make New York City a tourist-friendly destination.
View real-life examples of tourists being overcharged. Forget about $34, most fares are quoted as $50--and many others are much higher! Read recent testimony about blatant overcharging.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Advocates for horses and consumers

It is a sad state of affairs when the city advocates for industries that blatantly rip off tourists. Thankfully, there are concerned citizens who enthusiastically welcome visitors and go out of their way to help them. Since the city supports the inhumane and potentially fraudulent horse-drawn carriage industry, it's good to know that tourists are finally getting some help in understanding the legally allowable fares for carriage rides.

How would tourists know the fares? Many drivers routinely overcharge and even collect sales tax. These ripoffs are large and small, and they add up nicely (it's a cash-only industry). There's no signpost or literature rack to state the legal fare, which is $34 for the first half-hour. Tourists rely on what they are told by the drivers, who decide each fare on a case-by-case basis.

It is within this context that the mayor just unveiled a slick new online tourist portal. Also, at a recent hearing at City Hall over two bills affecting the horse-drawn carriage industry, officials from NYC & Co. gave a ridiculously flawed assessment of revenue generated by this industry. Tony Avella, sponsor of Intro. 658, could not get a straight answer as to how their absurd reckonings were determined. The fact is that the city derives NO DIRECT REVENUE from this cash-only industry, and visitors do not plan a visit to New York City to take a carriage ride. So tourism revenue is a non-issue here.
*** Action alert *** Please watch the videos "Tourists Overcharged in NYC" or "Tourists Overcharged--SHORT," and read testimony about some of the outrageous fares charged. Then email or write to your City Council member and ask him or her to OPPOSE Intro. 653-A/2007, the industry bill that would reduce industry oversight while giving drivers a raise, and to SUPPORT Intro. 658, Tony Avella's bill that calls for a full ban. Please also email or write to Council Member David Weprin, a city comptroller candidate who supports this industry and its bill, which is rife with financial irregularities. Unless Weprin changes his ways drastically, this is not a man who should be in charge of city monies. Please tell Weprin that you OPPOSE Intro. 653-A. Learn more about it here, in a position statement from the New York City Bar Association.
Also please contact Jonathan Mintz, Commissioner of the Department of Consumer Affairs, an oversight agency that turns a blind eye to the serious problem of overcharging by the carriage industry. At the recent hearing, a DCA official DID NOT KNOW THE FARES. Shameful, because DCA is one of the primary agencies that oversees this industry. Email Mr. Mintz at:

Thursday, February 12, 2009

If they had their druthers...

They'd have "free rein of the city"
Some of you heard at the recent hearing from carriage driver Frank Rodden, who, after all these years, is still talking about his "industry being the most regulated in the city." He's a broken record, as this piece from the New York Times archive shows. If he had his druthers today, I guess tourists would be seeing the sights from the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, in a carriage.
All the rules in the world mean nothing if they are not enforced. Bad enough that the horses receive poor and infrequent veterinary care and live in filthy multistory stables. We also have a Department of Consumer Affairs that apparently doesn't even know the legal fare structure for a carriage ride, and shows every indication that it doesn't want to know! Cash only, and a ripoff!
How much is a ride, anyway? Watch "Tourists Overcharged," by YouTube member "HorsesinNYC"

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The trickle-down theory of stupidity

Or, "How much is the fare?"
No surprise that the ASPCA cannot do much about the plight of New York's carriage horses. This organization and others have said that New York's industry cannot be made safe for the horses. What is even more troubling is that the agencies charged with industry oversight--namely, the Department of Health and the Department of Consumer Affairs--do next to nothing on this front. Heck, they are effectively sanctioning all kinds of industry misbehavior, from blatant disregard for the regulations that state when and where the horses can and cannot be worked to illegally overcharging the tourists that the city purports to so adore. Thus the city is entrenched in this out-of-control industry up to its eyeballs, from our narcissistic mayor to the police officers who turn a blind eye. Because spooking accidents involving carriage horses almost always involve human injury, a human fatality is inevitable. It's only a matter of time. The other injuries will be from the "Tweeder" politicians getting whiplash, as most of them will be spinning around and pointing the finger of blame at everyone but themselves. And the city will be in the spotlight, since the liability insurance carried by the carriage drivers and companies is negligible. Yikes.
At the well-attended recent public hearing on Intro. 658, Tony Avella's bill that would ban horse-drawn carriages, and Intro. 653, a misguided industry bill that would bring about even LESS oversight, many of us were getting a real lesson in community civics. Imagine our surprise to see such bad behavior on the part of Council Members James Gennaro and G. Oliver Koppell. We heard a DCA representative, Andrew Eiler, stammer when asked about the fare for a 30-minute carriage ride, and increments, and then guess and get them both wrong! How disturbing is it that the DCA apparently doesn't know--or care to know--the fares, because then the department might have to bother itself with problem resolution, or even restitution--the way it does for brides who were ripped off by bad wedding photographers! And the cash-only carriage industry wants a raise!
Related video: Driver Gone Wild (when asked about fares!) *** EXPLICIT *** from YouTube member "HorsesinNYC." Also: statements that were made at the hearing about overcharging and insurance.
Photo credit: AP file photo