Charleston has had horse-drawn carriages since its beginnings as a colonial city, but over 70 years ago Joseph P. Riley (whose 6-year-old son would one day become the longest-serving mayor) had a new idea for them. put to a new use.
“Four horses took turns pulling two carriages through the streets of downtown Charleston yesterday to prepare them and their drivers to transport tourists to see historical landmarks,” reported the Dec. 6, 1949 editions of The News and Courier. “Arrangements have been made with (the) Zoning Council and the Hibernian Company for the car park in front of the Hibernian Lobby to await passengers.”
Much has changed over the past seven decades, but some things have not.
Instead of a handful of cars run by Carriage Tours Inc. of Mr. Riley and Eugene P. Corrigan, the town had 85 certified cars owned by five companies that ran 23,762 tours last year. Instead of parking along Meeting Street, most tours go through the city’s “gate” to the City Market, a place where tour operators are issued a medallion limiting their route to one of three zones.
As the industry grew, so did its opponents. An epic debate emerged in the mid-1970s, long after Mr Riley sold the company and around the time his son became mayor. The big problem was solid waste. “The Charleston Horse Diapers Ordinance has sparked a short but high-profile controversy that city officials are reluctant to repeat despite the problems they face for some car drivers to sweep daily,” the newspaper noted.
Of course, those diapers were ultimately needed – and transport companies also pay to spray the streets where horses relieve themselves in another form.
This whole story is given here to prove a larger point: The growth and prosperity of the transportation industry has been accompanied every step of the way by increased municipal regulations.
And the status of these rules rarely satisfies horse-drawn carriage drivers or horse-drawn carriage critics, and it is as it should: the role of the city is to strike a balance in the midst of all the tensions.
For example, advocates and critics fought fiercely five years ago to improve the system for determining if it is too hot for carriage rides to operate safely. In 2017, the city council lowered the threshold for ending visits from 98 degrees to 95 degrees. (The heat index limit has also been reduced from 125 to 110 degrees.) But that hasn’t ended the controversy, which still includes the location of the thermometer and how often it is read.
The city’s current regulatory review has focused not so much on horses as it is on people – those who guide and ride in horse-drawn carriages and those who occupy the sidewalks and streets of the city center. What is at issue are the safety protocols for cars and drivers.
Some pending changes would give livability and tourism director Dan Riccio the power to stop horse-drawn carriage tours in the event of an emergency. They would require highly reflective markings on the front, back and sides of the cars as well as on the animal’s harness; approval by the city of an annual business training program; companies to have someone on duty trained in horse first aid; and inspections of horses and carriages following any reportable accidents.
But omitted were other suggestions that would prevent young children from sitting in the backs of cars or right next to the road or from being buckled up with a seat belt; require random drug tests for car drivers and require them to obtain a special driver’s license; and would require cars to be structurally sound certified, among other things.
Maybe some of these omitted requirements should be added, maybe not. We are most concerned when board members voted last month to give initial approval to the changes after some asked for a postponement. The postponement was requested because the council meeting dragged on for more than five hours and was dominated by other matters. Ted Corvey, a former prosecutor who has handled animal cruelty cases and worked on drafting the new rules, said those pushing for more wagon safety measures “barely had the time to call. day “August 17.
The job of the city council is not to fully satisfy the horse-drawn carriage drivers or their detractors, but rather to revise the regulations if necessary and at least to make sure that both parties feel heard.
The presence of horse-drawn carriage rides on the city streets has become an almost as iconic part of Charleston as the historic monuments horses ride through, and the controversy over their operation is expected to continue to flourish as reliably as the oleanders. in spring. Yes, the industry contributes a lot to the city coffers, $ 712,657 in 2019 business licenses, medallion fees, visitation permits, animal waste management fees, and tourist ticket fees. But the city is spending a few hundred thousand dollars to regulate it.
People concerned about what the ordinance covers (and doesn’t cover) should make sure their voices are heard in another vote later this month – and city council should make sure its last attempt to tighten transport regulations is as successful and sensible as it can be.
The opportunity should not be passed up just because the horse-drawn carriage debate is sure to resurface.