Will tourism officials rein in the city’s carriage industry?

Charleston Animal Society raises concerns over horse safety

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The city's tourism managers have proposed new rules for the carriage industry - LESLIE MCKELLAR
  • Leslie McKellar
  • The city's tourism managers have proposed new rules for the carriage industry
City officials face resistance on all sides regarding new regulations proposed for the downtown carriage industry, and the debate is far from over.

On Monday, the Tourism Commission’s Routes, Parking, and Touring Rules subcommittee met to discuss new restrictions on the travel of horse-drawn carriages in the city’s Historic District. One proposed ordinance would limit the number of carriages transporting passengers between locations, but would not affect those conducting tours.

If the ordinance is passed, carriages would be required to reserve a transportation tag, also called a T-tag. No more than eight T-tags would be issued per day, and carriage operators would need to submit a trip manifest to the city’s Livability and Tourism Office detailing the route they are to take for each trip. According to the ordinance, “The route must be the most direct route on the least-congested streets,” and the tourism manager would have the authority to modify proposed routes to accommodate for traffic flow.

According to those behind the plan, the ordinance is an effort to prevent unnecessary traffic delays and inconveniences in the neighborhoods most-affected by carriage travel.

“The city is not getting any bigger, but it’s getting so many more people. When you start putting that congestion on top of congestion, it’s got to be regulated. Charleston would not be the tourist city that it is today if we didn’t have people like us regulating tourism for so many years,” says Jane Jilich, member of the Tourism Commission and chair of the Routes, Parking, and Touring Rules Subcommittee.

According to Jilich, officials are placed in the difficult position of finding a compromise between what is best for neighborhoods on the peninsula and carriage operators. With the decision on carriage regulations deferred until their next meeting in December, the subcommittee has only a few weeks to decide how to move forward.

“It seems like we can’t please everybody. There is no regulation of transportation right now by carriage. They can run all over the streets any time they want to and everything like that,” says Jilich. “Of course, the neighborhoods don’t like that. The neighborhoods would like to get rid of them all together, but you can’t quite do that in free enterprise either, so you’re caught between a rock and a hard place. The neighborhoods want more. The carriage operators want to have free rein.”

The subcommittee is also scheduled to discuss a change in the number of carriage tours allowed in certain residential districts on the peninsula and the times during which they are allowed to operate. If approved, the new rules would be implemented on a trial basis for nine months before any final changes become permanent.

“One of the other things that is the most controversial is we want carriages out of residential neighborhoods by 7 p.m. They can stay in the commercial district until 9 p.m., which is the way tours are set up now, so it’s already in the ordinance like that. We want to follow the same guidelines. The people who live in those districts do not want a lot of traffic and congestion during those evening hours,” says Jilich. “Mayor Riley wants us to do something about it. We know it was a directive from the Tourism Management Plan, so I know that something is going to happen. We’re going to pass the ordinances. It’s just taking longer than I had hoped.”

As the city focuses on the carriage industry’s effect on traffic and the quality of life of downtown residents, Joe Elmore of the Charleston Animal Society says one important factor is being ignored — the well-being of the animals involved.

“We’ve made our position clear. We’re not against working horses pulling carriages for hire. We’re not against that as long as it’s done in a humane working environment and under humane working conditions,” says Elmore. “The current practice is not humane, and that’s why our interest in it is to ensure the working conditions are humane.”

According to Elmore, a thorough examination of Charleston’s horse carriage industry is needed, and city officials should take a pause before any new regulation are put in place.

“I don’t see where any kind of safety or hazard analysis was done in coming up with allowing these animal-drawn vehicles to operate in the evening when there have been already over the last three years approximately 20 documented incidents where personal property, people, or animals were injured,” says Elmore. “We’ve got a case right now where someone had sent us photos of the horses and their hooves, and we sent them to two national animal-cruelty faculties and investigators to weigh in, and they’ve raised questions about them. They say veterinarians need to look at these horses right now. The system is broken. I don’t care what anyone says. The system is broken, and it needs repairing.”


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