Return of the horseless carriage

The familiar clippety-clop of horseshoes on asphalt in Society Hill could become a thing of the past.

At some point, this will be a thing of the past. (Photo: Stu Bykofsky)

Years of protests by animal advocates against horse-drawn carriages in the historic district around Independence Mall are moving toward a payoff, with a helping hand from technology, believes Janet White, director of  Carriage Horse Freedom, an advocacy group. 

The technology will be one issue discussed, says White, at a scheduled Friday meeting with stakeholders in the carriage horse drama. The technology: Battery-operated horseless carriages that will ride tourists around, but without the odor of manure and without the discomfort of horses, who were not meant to compete with cars, trucks and busses on city streets.

“It’s a question of when, not if, there will be a ban” on horse-drawn carriages, White tells me, pointing to many cities that already have bans. From as far away as Beijing to as near as Camden, horse-drawn carriages are on the sliding board to oblivion. 

White thinks the change from horses to electric horse power could come as early as next year.

Not likely, says City Councilman Mark Squilla, whose district includes Independence Mall. He’s been hearing from animal advocates, and has been receptive, since his election in 2012, but he thinks White is a little over her skis.

As time goes by, “I see tourism without the horses,” except for special occasions, such as a wedding that would like to use a horse-drawn carriage. The electrics are “a great idea, but we are not close,” he says. 

There are electric horseless carriages in use in some foreign cities, but they would not meet U.S. street standards, says Squilla. 

That’s where the 76 Carriage Company might come in, says Squilla. It is the sole remaining company operating horse-drawn carriages around Independence Mall, and also operates the double-decker Big Bus, which it built itself. Squilla believes 76 Carriage might want to build horseless carriages and already has sent someone on a study mission to  Guadalajara, Mexico, where electric carriages are in use. White says company president Mike Slocum is open to the idea of replacing horses with e-carriages. (Slocum did not respond to a voicemail and an email seeking comment.)

There are federal regulations for low speed vehicles, White agrees, but they are surmountable and she is hoping to bring a German horseless carriage for display and inspection to Philadelphia before the end of the year.

“Electric horse-drawn carriages are a win-win solution to the problem of the inhumane and dangerous horse-drawn carriages,” says White. “There is no job loss. The carriage company will experience increased profits with the e-carriages” and Philadelphia will get good press by becoming the first U.S. city to transition to e-carriages, she says.

Also supporting horseless carriages is the Humane Society of the United States. “Urban working and living environments pose potential health and welfare hazards for working equines,” Equine Campaign Manager Valerie Pringle wrote to Squilla. 

Scheduled to attend the Friday meeting at the offices of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau will be bureau chief administrative officer Angela Val, Janet White, Mark Squilla, Visit Philadelphia chief of staff Michael Newmuis, Global Philadelphia Association executive director Zabeth Teelucksingh, Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission manager Karen Cilurso, and by video link, Dr. Clare Weeden, University of Brighton, UK, an expert on ethical tourism. 

Horseless carriages are in use from Guadalajara to Munich, White tells me.  

The only question is how fast the obstacles can be overcome.

10 thoughts on “Return of the horseless carriage”

  1. Horse drawn carriages are definitely a thing of the past! It’s time for a more humane, advanced, and acceptable electric carriage to take over. The horses do not belong on dangerous city streets surrounded by traffic and exhaust fumes.

  2. HAPPY WEDNESDAY !!!Let’s begin at the beginning. In 1948, my family moved to the part of Philly that was on the line between Port Richmond, Kennsington and Harrowgate. The street still had horses stalled in the yards of these homes.
    Since my father grew up around horses, all of us boys in my family learned to ride as soon as we got out of diapers. We rode the Fairmont Park system. Pennypack, Juniata,Lawncrest and Valley Green to name a few. Back in the day – ’50s, ’60s and ’70s there where small stables through out the city. There still are quite a few stables even today. The point of this history, is that we who rode and those who owned, took care of their mounts. My cousin’s husband and my wife’s brother-in-law were both Philadelphia Mounted Policeman. Our hucksters even used horses back then. One year my buddy and I had tried renting a horse, wagon and buying the produce load.
    Then you have the tourist business. There used to be several companies that had the carriages. The horses were often times old. We called them sway backs. They should have been retired, not pulling a carriage on cobble stone streets. Many times these critters were malnourished and certainly not properly cared for. Eventually, things got better.
    Hopefully 76 Carriage cares for their horses. Out here in Chester County, the Amish use their horses every day for farming and transportation. The animals are well cared for, because the horses are a much needed part of the Amish Life.
    As you should see, I care for animals. There is nothing wrong with a carriage business in Olde City. The routes should be well defined. Special care and consideration should be given because the carriage business bodes well in the historic part of Philly.

  3. It’s tragic that any city still allows 19th century animal cruelty in its streets. Those poor horses amble along at the expense of their health, being exposed to car exhaust, etc., while creating traffic hazards that get many of them killed each year. Leave the past in the past.

  4. Our City needs to stop ignoring the data and stop putting horses and people at risk.
    IT’S TIME TO GET HORSES OFF CITY STREETS!

  5. I think the horseless carriage is a great way to transition away from using horses. I was never comfortable with the idea of having horses who might get spooked riding along with cars, buses and now more bicycles and motorcycles than ever in dense urban settings. This proposal seems like it would keep the carriage operators working and would probably be far less maintenance for them, let the horses enjoy the rest of their lives in the pastures and make life easier for everyone in general. Sounds like a win-win.

    1. My sentiments exactly. Many of us wanted this to happen in New York City but the mayor wouldn’t listen to the people who understood the issues.

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