For the record, it's the year 2014. I mention that in case someone reading this story about a push to replace horses with motorized carriages thinks they've stumbled onto some archival piece by accident. It's been more than 100 years since the first vehicles began to trundle around Manhattan, but the last remaining vestiges of horse-powered transport in the city could be nigh — if the backers of a massive electric wagon get their way.
Unveiled at the New York auto show today, the Horseless eCarriage was designed and built by restorer Jason Wenig, on commission from New Yorkers for Clean, Livable, Safe Streets — a coalition which wants the city to outlaw the 68 horse-drawn carriages currently licensed to give tours of Central Park. Among the group's chief backers: newly elected Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Wenig says his goal was to re-create the kind of vehicles popular in the Brass Era. His coach borrows a few flourishes from several different models of the age — some Rolls-Royce in the radiator cover, some Locomobile and Pierce-Arrow in the fenders — without offering an exact replica. While the Horseless eCarraige has the basic requirements of a modern vehicle, such as seat belts for eight, it hides them behind brass and wood, with some ancient flourishes like candle-powered side lamps and a hand horn. (There's also an optional roof, but no closed-body alternative.)
But old style doesn't mean old tech. The eCarriage gets its 84 hp from a 47-kWh lithium-ion battery pack, which spins an electric motor driving the rear wheels. Even though it's wheelbase is longer than a Chevy Suburban, it can travel 100 miles on a charge with a top speed of 30 mph. Within Central Park itself, Wenig says the car would have geo-fencing software that would limit its top speed to five miles an hour, and would meet federal standards that allow slow-speed neighborhood vehicles on public roads.
NYCLASS and the new mayor's horse crusade has run into stout opposition around New York. The carriage drivers say the city already regulates the horses to ensure their well-being, and would be out of a job under a ban. The conservatory that runs Central Park told the New York Daily News today that it opposes letting more vehicles of any kind into the park; it has fought to bar them almost since the invention of the automobile. And sentiments in the city appear to favor a piece of old New York.
NYCLASS says Wenig's vehicles could be built for $150,000 to $175,000 each, but would cost far less to keep than a horse over a few years. But even in modern, go-fast New York, the slow horse may win this race.