Pope Francis to Halt NYC Carriage Horses on Friday

If you are looking to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis in Central Park this Friday, it will not be from a horse-drawn carriage. In preparation of the Papal visit, the New York City Health Department suspended operation of the carriages, citing safety reasons.

Conor McHugh, manager of the Clinton Park Stables on 52nd Street, received a fax on Tuesday morning from the Health Department informing him of the decision. A law grants the Health Department the authority to suspend operations in adverse conditions, which usually refers to the temperature. If it is above 90 °F or below 18 °F, the horse-drawn carriages are not allowed to operate. However, citing the potential for heavy crowds and traffic, the risks posed by the Papal visit were deemed serious enough by the Health Department to warrant keeping the carriage horses out of the Park and off the streets.

The decision didn’t come as a surprise to McHugh, who had been in communication with the Health Department prior to the fax. In addition, some of the drivers had predicted that they would not be allowed to work.

“I think people will be okay with it, because the problem was most people weren’t really sure if we were going to be allowed to work,” said Christina Hansen, who drives a large black horse named Billy. Because the annual Central Park Horse Show is taking place this week in Wollman Rink, Hansen said, that area of Central Park will remain open. This lead to confusion among the drivers, since that area is where the drivers take passengers on their short 20 minute rides.

“Practically any time that unusual things are happening, we find that business goes down, because people sort of get distracted,” said McHugh, who has been driving carriages in NYC for 29 years. “Ultimately, I find that the best days for us are just normal days, normal weekends, when people are just kind of doing their normal stuff.”

However, a normal day is nearly impossible to calculate, according to McHugh and Hansen, since variables such as weather, time of year, happenings in the city, and luck all affect profits. However, McHugh estimates that a driver can usually expect five or six rides. A standard 20 minute ride costs $50, and an additional $20 for every 10 minutes after that.

Profits aside, many drivers seemed relieved that they would not have to brave Central Park and the surrounding streets during Pope Francis’s tour on Friday, which overlaps with the carriages’ short and long routes. One driver, Shawn Boyle, planned to take time off for vacation before the decision was even announced.

“The whole thing will be frozen solid,” said Boyle of his typical route. “There will be plenty of days for taking carriage rides – it’s not every day the Pope comes.”