New York’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, often bemoans a “tale of two cities”—one rich, one poor. But lately he has been lamenting a different kind of tail—the ones on the horses that for decades have pulled the iconic tourist carriages through Central Park. De Blasio plans to ban the horse-drawn hansoms because, like many New Yorkers, he thinks the horses are undernourished, mistreated, and overworked, not unlike your typical Manhattan freelance fact-checker. And so, to keep the tourists coming back to the Big Apple, here are my alternatives to the Central Park horse-drawn carriages.
Electric Tin Lizzie
There’s a certain political poetry in shifting from horse-drawn carriages to horseless carriages, so this alternative may have the upper hand in de Blasio's deliberations. But frankly, these faux-antique autos, which have already been proposed, are more suited to a ride up Disneyland’s Main Street than past the Wollman Ice Skating Rink.
Upside: Environmentally sensitive.
Popular in India, Thailand, and elsewhere in Asia, these three-wheeled death-traps, sometimes called auto-rickshaws and often driven by carefree maniacs, are fun, sprightly, and cheap—ideal for ripping past the Central Park Zoo to avoid a clogged Fifth Avenue.
Downside: Why bother when you can already get the same effect from the average taxi?
You can find these wonderful contraptions in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and even Houston. A dozen beer drinkers face each other across a bike-mounted bar and pedal as they imbibe. A (hopefully) sober driver steers the bike’s handlebars and stops to retrieve inebriated passengers who’ve fallen off.
Upside: Well, you get to drink beer as you go.
Downside: Mayor de Blasio was probably thinking of something more tasteful than Animal House on wheels.
Depending on your personal risk tolerance, you can either thank or blame the Philippines for these modified motorcycles. Imagine 8-10 passengers crammed together and delicately balanced on a 20-year-old 125cc Kawasaki with muffler issues. Now you get the picture. How do you survive a habal-habal ride? Pray.
Upside: Getting to know your fellow riders, very up-close and personal.
Downside: Getting to know your fellow riders, very up-close and personal.
Riders squeeze into plastic tubes hanging from a mini-monorail track and pedal as they would a bicycle.
Upside: No carbon footprint, thanks to foot power.
Downside: You’re on a track, so no detours possible. Plus, claustrophobes (who, me?) will fight off a panic attack and then pass out before reaching their destination.
Float like a butterfly…Well, skid like a really fast caterpillar, more like it. OK, they’re not perfect yet, but one-man hovercraft are a reality, just right for bounding across Central Park’s Sheep Meadow on a lazy summer evening.
Upside: Coolness factor.
Downside: No brakes.
These human-powered rickshaws are still in use in the geisha districts of Kyoto and Tokyo, but more as a tourist novelty than a practical mode of transportation—you know, sort of like, well, Central Park’s horse-drawn carriages. Do-gooders will likely balk at what they perceive as a cruel and inhumane practice. On the other hand, rickshaw-pullers in Japan routinely earn around $15 for a 10-minute ride, which comes out to…let’s see…add the five…carry the one…about a thousand dollars an hour! Hey, where do we sign up?