The Central Park horse carriage drivers aren’t the only ones pleased that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s latest attempt to banish the industry went kaput: pedicab drivers who generate much of their revenue in the park also breathed a sigh of relief because de Blasio’s aborted City Council bill would have banned them from operating in Central Park below 85th Street.
“We were totally blindsided,” Dean Doherty, the owner of Leprechaun Pedicab Express, told the Irish Voice on Monday.
Doherty, a native of Co. Mayo who came to the U.S. 14 years ago and now lives in Woodlawn, started his business about 12 years ago and employs 10 drivers for most of the year except for winter, when the number is four.
“We were never involved in anything that was going on between the horse drivers and the mayor, and all of a sudden he was trying to wipe us out,” says Doherty.
The pedicab and horse drivers, he adds, haven’t always gotten along because of the competition for business in Central Park, and the pedicab drivers, who are not unionized, feel that de Blasio was using their livelihoods as a sweetener to get the horse owners to agree to his bill: the mayor would get rid of the pedicabs in exchange for the horse and carriages having exclusive access to tourist-rich Central Park below 85th Street.
“We’re thankful that didn’t happen, but we are definitely worried about the future,” says Doherty. The pedicab industry, he says, is in talks to unionize to help protect against another move against their industry.
Leprechaun Express Pedicabs is one of the many licensed businesses operating in Central Park and throughout the city. Doherty says there are many Irish pedicab drivers who have passed through his company’s ranks, and he makes a point of employing Irish immigrants, including many students who come for the summer on J-1 visas.
“Some have worked for me and gone on to start their own businesses,” says Doherty, who owns 10 pedicabs and houses them in a garage in Times Square.
Doherty’s business also extends to Delaware in the summer where his drivers work the beaches there; his cabs and rickshaws are also available for hire for private events. Doherty himself has brought a pedicab to the last two presidential inaugurations, and to events like the Super Bowl and NASCAR races.
Working Central Park accounts for roughly 70 percent of his revenue, and the average pedicab ride lasts for an hour and costs around $90, Doherty said. Many tourists also hire the pedicabs for tours throughout the city.
“The guys are out there all times of the year. It doesn’t matter how cold or hot it is,” says Doherty, who has traveled with his pedicab to 39 states and laughs that he’s “in very good shape from the waist down.”
“On Sunday, when it was absolutely freezing, one of our drivers had a couple who got engaged. So we never stop working. The horses get six weeks off and don’t work in extreme weather.”
The pedicab industry is regulated by the City of New York, and owners need to be licensed and insured.
“The crazy thing is if we were going to be kicked out of Central Park, we would have then contributed to the traffic problem on the streets that de Blasio always talks about,” Doherty points out.
“We’d be all over the streets in places like Times Square. And we’re not allowed to use the bike lanes. It wouldn’t have worked out well.”