By Jeff Bell
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is calling for an end to horse-drawn carriages in the Big Apple, an issue that has also been debated in Victoria.
The prospect of banning the carriages, which date back to the 1800s, was raised in de Blasio’s election campaign last year.
“We’ve been considering a range of options that move the horses off our streets, safeguard the animals and protect the livelihoods of the men and women who provide carriage rides,” the mayor’s spokeswoman Monica Klein told Bloomberg News.
A bill calling for a ban is set to be introduced Dec. 8, but wouldn’t come into effect until May 31, 2016, when the licences expire for all current carriage drivers.
Victoria’s most recent public discussion on horse-drawn carriages came last May, after an incident where a Tally-Ho Carriage Tours driver and a motorist were hurt when a spooked horse bolted on Government Street, hitting two cars and a motorcycle. Two passengers were thrown but were not injured.
Concerns also surfaced in August 2012 after a horse was startled and bolted in Chinatown, leaving one passenger with a broken arm.
Emily May, a manager and driver for Victoria Carriage Tours, said such incidents do not happen often, and safety is a regular topic of discussion. “That’s actually one of the questions on our job interview — ‘What is the most important part of doing this job?’ The answer is ‘Safety.’ ”
While she is aware of the situation in New York City, May said the circumstances are different here. “Our hearts go out to the drivers in New York, but Victoria is a very different city than New York and we experience no problems with working in traffic.”
Victoria Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe said she has been to New York and seen the carriages close-up. “When you look at the traffic in New York, the amount of taxis and the tooting of horns — if I were a New York councillor, I would ban horse-drawn carriages from city streets.”
Thornton-Joe said there is little appetite among Victoria councillors to ban horse-drawn carriages, but the city has worked closely with animal-welfare groups to come up with bylaws that make carriages safer for passengers and more humane for animals.
The group Carriage-Free Victoria said it has gathered thousands of signatures in recent years supporting a ban on horse-drawn carriages.