- Associated Press - Thursday, April 17, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) - An electric car that proponents hope will replace horse-drawn carriages in New York City was presented Thursday at the New York International Auto Show, as critics expressed their distaste for the idea.

The “Horseless eCarriage” prototype was commissioned by NYCLASS, a group advocating for a ban on carriage horses because they say it’s inhumane to have the animals toiling in an urban environment.

The prototype car seats eight people and is made to look like it’s from the early 20th century, with lots of brass and oversized wheels. Creator Jason Wenig of The Creative Workshop, a car restoration and customization business, said the selling price could be between $150,000 and $175,000.

Wenig called the car “an homage” to an earlier time, with a body shape that “reflects and celebrates an era that’s of amazing historical significance to this city.”

But before the cars could make their way to the streets around Central Park, legislation banning the carriage horses would have to be passed. Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to ban the horses. But carriage-horse operators and their allies - including actor Liam Neeson - have loudly opposed the mayor’s plan and the council has not yet introduced the legislation.

The Central Park Conservancy, a nonprofit that oversees the park in partnership with the city, was against the idea of bringing more cars into the popular place.

“Forty million people visit Central Park each year, including runners, bicyclists, kids and dog owners,” said Doug Blonsky, president and CEO of the conservancy. “Adding vehicles to the mix will make the park less safe for all of them and increase congestion.”

Wenig said the cars would be able to go up to 30 mph outside of the park, but would be kept electronically from going more than 5 mph inside it.

Asked about the conservancy’s opposition, de Blasio said he thought it was a “misunderstanding” of what’s being proposed.

“Right now, besides the fact that the horse carriages are not humane - there have been a number of accidents involving carriages - the routes we’re talking about would be the same as our existing routes,” he said. “You’re talking about electric cars for tourists that go slow on purpose because they should go slow and because tourists want to see things. That’s very different from other issues about cars in parks, and it is a cleaner, better, more humane approach, that obviously will also provide employment opportunities and will be good for our tourism industry.”

City Councilmember Daniel Dromm said legislation was still being crafted, with the specifics of how those who hold licenses for the carriage horses could get the vehicles and how it would be paid for still to be determined. He insisted there were enough votes for legislation to pass.