The City of Victoria is considering a motion to phase out horse-drawn carriages by 2023.
The carriages have been a contentious topic for years, with a spur in push back prompted in 2018 by a viral video that showed working horses struggling to get up after taking a tumble near Ogden Point. After this incident, the BC SPCA penned a letter in May 2018 that supported further policy development, and limited routes for horse-drawn carriages. The BC SPCA also wrote a follow up letter in July to further emphasize their demand for better policies and protection for working horses.
In a motion put forward by Coun. Ben Isitt this week, it’s proposed that the city would amend the 2019-2022 Strategic Plan to “develop regulations to phase out commercial horse-drawn carriage operations on city streets by 2023, providing adequate notice to operators, employees and members of the public.”
The motion also suggests that council encourage industry workers to consider the feasibility of “e-carriages” in lieu of horses.
“There’s certainly something quaint about horse-drawn transportation, but I think it’s ill suited to a 21st century city where we’re only seeing more and more traffic and congestion,” Isitt said. “They’ll only go out of business if they fail to transition to other ways of powering vehicles. This is a proposal to modernize the industry.”
When asked how both of the city’s horse-drawn carriage companies, Tally-Ho and Victoria Carriage Tours, could make an economical transition from horse-powered to e-powered, Isitt suggested that running an e-vehicle business would likely have less costs than an animal-based business.
“When issuing city licenses at different parking stands on city streets, we’ve given reduced rates to firms using electric vehicles,” Isitt said. “There’s potentially considerable savings for a business.”
Isitt also added that by giving the company’s several years’ notice about the transition, it would allow them to age out some of their horses and not plan to introduce new ones.
For Tally-Ho owner/operator Donna Friedlander, these suggestion seemed ludicrous.
“I think he’s missed the whole point; I’m not in an e-vehicle business, I’m in a horse carriage business. Horses are my whole life,” Friedlander said. “Whatever has been put forward for 2023 is not grounded in facts or has any merit in it. We are a legally-operating business and we’ve done nothing wrong.”
Friedlander added that both Tally-Ho and Victoria Carriage Tours take immaculate care of their horses, far beyond industry standards.
“They have their own chiropractors and masseuses,” she said.
Friedlander also noted that if the 55 city horses suddenly needed somewhere to go, they’d be hard-pressed to find a sanctuary that could accommodate them, noting that annually the companies spend over $1 million on horse care.
“There’s nowhere for them to go. You hear instead about horses going to feeding lots, or being shipped to Japan where horse sashimi is a popular thing,” Friedlander said. “We work in an industry where we work to protect these animals.”
Animal activists have long been pushing for the total ban of horse-drawn carriages, including Jordan Reichert, founder of the Victoria Horse Alliance who was grateful to learn about the motion.
“The BC SPCA recommendations are already a year old and there have been further incidents with the horse carriages since that time,” Reichert said in a statement. “Four more years of this unsafe, inhumane, and unprofessional industry putting the public and horses’ safety at risk is irresponsible.”
Both Tally-Ho and the Victoria Carriage Tours released a joint statement in dissent of Isitt’s idea.
“Our services are about providing the public an opportunity to interact with and learn about our amazing horses, slow down and experience life at an easy pace, and remember our historical roots,” the statement reads. “Take the horse out of the carriage, and all you have is an electric car – gone is the romance, the nostalgia and the positive impact horses have on society.”
The motion will be discussed at the city’s committee of the whole meeting on Thursday, May 16.
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