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Pedicab drivers battled through the frigid cold Monday afternoon to let the city know — they won’t give up on their right to work and make a living.
Over the weekend, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that a deal had been created to decrease the number of horses used in the horse carriage industry, while also establishing a private stable within Central Park.
As part of the plan, starting in June the city will also look to get rid of all pedicabs from the park south of 85th Street — a compromise that has many pedicab drivers’ blood boiling and asking why they weren’t part of the conversation.
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“They used us to make a deal with the horse carriages,” said 36-year-old Gregory Klaeboe, who has been a pedicab driver for 10 years. “No one talked to us. I just want our voice to be heard, to tell people that we exist.”
Klaeboe was part of a large group of drivers who took to the street on Jan. 19, despite the cold temperatures, to rally in front of the City Hall gates and ask for de Blasio to reexamine the deal.
The drivers, guarded with signs that read “don’t take our jobs” with the mayor’s photograph next to it, marched the street and stood in front of the gate chanting “Central Park is not for sale” and “de Blasio save our jobs.”
For many of them, the idea of losing their main income has them afraid of not being able to provide for their families. Queens resident Frank Legarrette, who has been riding a pedicab for nine years, has two children — a 4-year-old and 7-year-old — who he said he has raised all thanks to the money he makes.
“It’s not fair because it’s just doesn’t make any sense,” Legarrette said. “This is New York but I’m not trying to be homeless, I’m trying to work. Before I started this job, I was not married, I had no children. Now I have two kids and I raised my family doing this job. I don’t push a horse, I push my own legs. We’re not harming anybody.”
Legarrette — who even has his own Facebook page where riders leave comments — added that the drivers are not against the horse carriages, because riding a pedicab compared to the carriages offer riders different experiences.
“We’re not taking the horses’ jobs. Some people prefer horses,” he said. “They have options, its New York. [De Blasio is] trying to eliminate our business in Central Park and there’s a lot of business there for us.”
According to the drivers, being forced to only do business south of 85th Street would lead to no profits and possibly even destroy the industry.
“Above 85th Street there are only trees and rocks. It’s not a tourist area,” said Siyovush Ochilov, 28, who has been a pedicab driver for five years. “You get really emotional about this. They can’t just come and take our jobs, this is against the law. They’re going to make us homeless.”
Joining the drivers during the protest were also members of the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages and the nonprofit NYC Park Advocates, who all said the plan was solely the mayor’s, negotiated behind closed doors.
“We’ve spoken to all the sides, and none of the sides are happy,” said Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates. “You can’t just give a private industry park lands. That’s against the law and we are certainly going to be fighting that in court. None of the stake holders were at the table."
The City Council must approve the deal before it becomes a reality, and the pedicab drivers — along with their supporters — all hope Monday’s protest made their voices heard.
“We are just showing our strength and showing that we all have families,” said driver Garth Burton, who has 8-year-old twins.“ We want to show presence, the fact that we are somebody. We are united.”