CITY HALL — The familiar clip-clop of hooves echoing along Downtown streets may soon become a thing of the past, as the Chicago City Council is one step away from banning horse-drawn carriages.
The City Council’s Committee on License and Consumer Protection unanimously advanced the proposed ban Wednesday, setting up a final vote on March 18 to outlaw the popular tourist attraction starting Jan. 1.
Chicago Alliance for Animals Executive Director Jodie Wiederkehr urged aldermen to ban the “archaic, inhumane” practice before a horse dies on Chicago’s streets.
However, operators of some of the 10 firms licensed to operate horse-drawn carriages pleaded with aldermen to let them keep rolling around the Water Tower and along the Magnificent Mile, saying they love their horses and would never allow them to be mistreated.
Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) said he would be sad to see the carriages disappear, adding that he “had his first kiss” in one of the carriages.
Larry Ortega, the owner of Chicago Horse & Carriage, said the carriages had been unfairly targeted by animal rights activists. He warned that if the ban advances, “it would open the door” for activists to target other businesses that rely on animals.
However, Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said horse-drawn carriage owners had only themselves to blame for the ban, which would allow them to operate through the spring, summer, fall and holiday season before closing up shop.
The 10 horse-drawn carriages operating in Chicago have racked up “hundreds of violations” by “refusing to follow basic rules of the road,” Reilly said.
Current rules prohibit the carriages from operating when the mercury is 90 degrees or higher or drops below 15 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition, the carriages have to shut down if the wind chill drops below zero, or if snow or ice on the ground makes it perilous for the horses to walk, according to city regulations.
The city’s ordinance requires carriage horses to be given water and allowed to rest for 15 minutes out of every hour, and carriages are not allowed on Downtown streets during the morning and evening rush hours. Horses can work no longer than six hours a day.
Violations of the city’s rules can trigger fines between $100 and $1,000.
A majority of the 334 violations issued to horse-drawn carriage operators last year were for allowing horses to work when it was too hot or too cold, Reilly said.
“We have given you lots of room to shape up,” Reilly said, addressing the carriage owners. “You have failed miserably.”
The ban will cost the city approximately $15,000 annually in lost license fees, an amount that will be recouped by no longer having to monitor the carriages’ operations and issue citations, Reilly said.
“The city has much, much more important things to focus on,” Reilly said.
Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) said the horse-drawn carriages pose a traffic hazard on already congested Downtown streets.
“The time has passed for these devices in Downtown Chicago,” Hopkins said.