The pitch goes like this: There are a few sites in NYC that you, welcomed visitor, must see before you leave. The most important one is Central Park. And it’s too big to see on foot.
This is the pedicab pitch, which now will have to overcome a further obstacle besides tourist indifference: the horse deal.
Pedicabbers are only one group upset with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “agreement in concept” on horse carriages. After benefiting from the anti-horse carriage groups that attacked his opponent in the 2013 mayoral race, de Blasio promised to ban the carriages from the park on day one of his administration. The new agreement, which still has to go through the City Council, would restrict the horses to Central Park, trim their numbers, and build a new stable within the park’s environs — and ban pedicabs inside the park below 85th Street, effectively hobbling the competition.
Pedicab drivers have been accused of being hustlers who would famously charge $400 for a short ride, but many drivers say the job is much-needed work — particularly for immigrants and others trying to get by in a tough job market.
Central Park pedicab operators, as opposed to street pedalers, strive to separate themselves from the common fold as experts and expert salesmen for the park.
The drivers love the park so much, says Josh Ozturk, a former driver originally from Turkey, that they sometimes yell at people who litter. They know everything about the park, culled from websites and books like “Central Park Then and Now.” Of course, that’s part of the pitch. But many of the drivers do know their history.
“It’s all man-made,” says Ozturk passionately, “except the rocks. Can you imagine?” He speaks of the park’s 26,000 trees, of Olmsted and Vaux’s 1858 design, of the English tiles imported for the Bethesda Terrace.
Smiley Fall, a driver originally from West Africa, ticks off stats about the size of the park (843 acres) and its key sites (Strawberry Fields of John Lennon fame). Fall says the pedicabbers aren’t bothering anyone here, least of all the horse-and-buggies.
“It’s a big park,” he says. “Walking is not ideal.”
Mark Chiusano is an editorial writer for amNew York.