Fate of Chicago’s horse-drawn carriages still up in the air after city committee declines to vote

Read the original article by Lisa Schencker at chicagotribune.com here.

The fate of Chicago’s horse-drawn carriages will remain uncertain for a little while longer, after a City Council committee declined Wednesday to vote on an ordinance that would put them out of business.

Emma Mitts, chairwoman of the Committee on License and Consumer Protection, said she believes that given more time, a compromise can be worked out between foes of horse-drawn carriages in Chicago and the horse and carriage owners. The committee was considering a proposed ordinance that would bar horse-drawn carriage owners from renewing their licenses, putting them out of business in the city.

The decision by the committee not to vote followed three hours of often-emotional testimony from both sides. After testimony ended, Mitts expressed anger that she was being pressured to make a quick decision about the carriages when people are dying from violence in other parts of the city.

Sponsors of the measure include Ald. Raymond Lopez, 15th; Ald. Brendan Reilly, 42nd; Ald. Anthony Napolitano, 41st; and Ald. Brian Hopkins, 2nd. They argued that the horse-drawn carriages disrupt traffic and create a safety hazard. They also accused carriage owners and operators of breaking city rules about where and when they may operate as well as how they must care for their horses.

“It’s just a matter of time before you have a major incident,” Hopkins said. “It’s probably more good luck than anything that we haven’t had the types of horrific accidents some other cities have had.”

Animal rights advocates also decried the horses’ treatment.

“We have seen these horses out in blistering heat and freezing cold,” said Cari Meyers, founder and president of the Puppy Mill Project, which successfully pushed for a city ordinance banning shops from offering commercially bred pets. “Is this the life for a majestic animal like a horse?”

Carriage owners acknowledge they’ve been cited by the city frequently in recent years, and in many cases they have settled with the city, finding it cheaper than defending themselves. But the operators also said many of the violations were over rules that are outdated or weren’t previously enforced and that they were reported by animal rights activists trying to put them out of business.

Animal rights activists say they have indeed been reporting violations in order to hold the companies accountable.

Carriage company owners urged aldermen to work with them to update the rules and compromise rather than put them out of business.

“We want to work with the city,” said Jim Rogers, who owns Great Lakes Horse and Carriage. “I thought we were providing a service to the city. I love my city. I love my horses.”

Doreen Rogers, who said she’s lived for 28 years near the Water Tower, where the horses operate, said she’s never seen problems with the horses and carriages. Trucks making deliveries to restaurants and hotels cause traffic issues downtown, but not the horses, she said.

The horse and carriage rides are a highlight of her grandchildren’s trips to visit her, she said.

“(They) add an element of romance and charm,” she said.

Reilly urged Mitts to allow the committee to vote on the ordinance Wednesday, saying past attempts at compromise have fallen flat. Mitts, however, said she believes the city and horse and carriage owners need more time to talk.

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