The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance
Too many horse carriages on the Pensinsula?
Some carriage companies are breaching regulationsWarwick Jones
There are mixed feelings about horse-drawn carriages on the Peninsula. Some residents feel they add to the historic charm of the district and help the tourism industry. Others say they clog traffic, and horses are worked sometimes in inhumane conditions. In response to citizen concerns, some years ago the City introduced an ordinance to regulate the industry. Most folk thought the ordinance limited the number of horse-drawn vehicles on the streets to 20 at any time, and that to ensure compliance, mandated carriages to carry a City-supplied medallion each time they embarked on a tour. The facts are slightly different. The ordinance gives the carriage companies considerable latitude in where they can travel, and without medallions. And indeed it seems to us that the carriage companies frequently breach the law.
Two ordinances to consider
For horse drawn carriages, there are two ordinances. One relates to when they carry passengers for conducted tours of the City, and falls under Tourism. Most of us thought this was the sole ordinance regulating carriages. It isn’t. The other ordinance relates to Trnsportation – carrying tourists from an hotel to the Aquarium say and allows carriages to go just about anywhere. This Transportation ordinance, which has little reference to horse-drawn carriages, places no restrictions on carriages in relation to where they can go, or the number.
But the confusion is deeper than that relating to whether a carriage ride falls under Tourism or Transportation. The Tourism ordinance places restrictions on carriages within the designated City zones of 1,2, and 3. In very general terms, these three zones encompass below Broad, the French Quarter and much of Harelston Village. The other zones 4 and 5, essentially north of Zones 1 to 3, have no restriction on the number of carriages when used for tours. Sounds simple but it isn’t. Large parts of Zones 4 and 5, such as Ansonborough and Harleston Village fall into Zone 3. So a reasonable question is how do you determine whether a carriage touring Ansonborough is traveling in Zone 3 and therefore requires a medallion? Or is traveling in Zone 4, and does not?
Increase in tours of Ansonborough and Wraggborough irk residents
Sightings of large number of carriages in Ansonborough and Wraggborough on some days in the last few weeks raised questions in residents’ minds as to what was going on. The responses from some City officials and carriage companies to these questions were not complete or satisfactory. So we spent some time with City staff in an attempt to gain the facts. And as we see them, they are as follows.
City divided for Tourism purposes into zones
The Peninsula is divided by the City for tourism purposes into a number of zones, numbered 1 to 5. As the carriage companies have said, the Tourism ordinance restricts them only in Zones 1 to 3. This is spelled out in the Ordinance which allows only 20 carriages at any time to be in these zones. It also goes further and limits the number to a maximum of 6 in Zone 1, 6 in Zone 2 and 8 in Zone 3. There is no reference to the other zones and thereby, there is no formal restriction on the number of carriages that can travel in these zones. To see the location press here for Zone1, press here for Zone 2, press here for Zone 3, press here for Zone 4, and press here for Zone 5.
Tours of Zones 4 and 5 only in peak tourist periods.
The carriage companies claim there is little demand for tours in Zones 4 and 5. They conduct tours in these zones largely in peak-tourist periods such as Easter. At that time, the number of tours in zones 1 to 3 is at the 20 limit. So to capture the custom of the large number of tourists seeking tours, they turn to the other zones.
It seems reasonable to ask as to why the City allows the carriage companies to exceed the 20 carriage limit. One of the purposes of restricting carriage numbers was to not exacerbate traffic congestion. But by allowing allows more tours at times of peak congestion, it contributes to congestion.
City uses “gate” to check tours
Tours in all zones must pass before the City operated “gate” on Market Street where the tour is checked out, and for those carriages destined for Zones 1 to 3, a medallion issued for display at the back of the carriage. A $3 fee is also charged by the City to cover the expense of street cleaning (This fee is imposed on all tourist related carriage tours and is to defray the cost of cleaning the streets of horse and mule waste).
See front three carriages of line on Easter Saturday 2 pm.
Carriages in Zones 4 and 5 don’t need medallions
Interestingly, it was the view of one carriage company owner that as tourist numbers increased, carriage tours in all the zones in the Peninsula would be regulated. But he also confirmed that presently, the demand for tours in Zones 4 and 5 was limited. We were also told by a carriage company representative and City staff that the carriage companies contact the City police for permission to conduct tours outside Zones 1 to 3. According to staff, the permission is broad – for a whole day or period and not for each individual tour. The demand for tours and whether the 20 medallions are being fully utilized in the other zones is an important factor in giving permission.
Strange overlap of Zone 3 with Zones 4 and 5
But what about the large overlap of zones, particularly Zone 3 with Zone 4 and 5? City staff told us that this overlap was to allow passage of carriages to reach other zones. For example, Market Street is common to both Zones 2 and 3, and Meeting Street is common to both Zones 1 and 2. These streets are conduits to other zones so the overlap seems reasonable. But why for example, is the whole of Ansonborough placed in both Zones 3 and 4? A conduit should be a single road, not a whole district.
“Tag shagging” is abuse of regulations
We took the opportunity to also seek the truth about “tag shagging”. This is the practice of removing a medallion from a carriage before completion of a tour and returning it to the Market Street “gate” to be placed on a waiting carriage. City staff said it was allowed so as to lessen the likelihood of complication relating to transfer at the tour end. Our opinion is that it allows carriage companies to have more tours running in Zones 1 to 3 beyond the mandatory limit of 20.
Our interest was whetted by a report that a citizen a few days before Easter saw a medallion being removed on Broad Street and carried off by a man on a bike. Indeed, early removal is common and most citizens have probably witnessed it. Presumably they wonder how and why? If carriages must have medallions, why does the City allow them to be transferred to another carriage before completion of a tour?
We saw the process again on Easter Saturday and repaired home to get a camera. Not knowing where the actual removal will take place, where do you position yourself? We saw but could not photograph a medallion removal that occurred just after the carriage left Broad Street. But we were able to get a picture of a carriage at Chalmers Street, traveling along Church Street shortly thereafter.
Picture was taken on Easter Saturday about 2.30 pm on Church Street.
Carriage companies and City officials seem confused
There seems to be genuine confusion as to what is allowed amongst some City employees we spoke to. The one at the City gate siad that that the removal was allowed as practised. Howvere in the regulations, there is a “free zone” in which carriages can complete their tours without a medallion. The “free zone” begins in Cumberland Street and extends to the roads that fed off Cumberland Street to Market Street. It does not extend up to Broad Street.
Cumberland Street is where tags may be removed, not before!
Referring to maps showing Zones 1 to 3, all of the streets to the south of Cumberland Street - Market, Church and King - are all within the specified zones where limitations exist. Only that part of Cumberland between Church and Meeting is a “free zone”. All streets north of Cumberland that lead into Market Street are also “free” and not parts of Zones 1 to 3.
Carriage companies could be liable for fines up to $1,100
City Tourism staff agree with our conclusion and said that tags should not be removed before Cumberland Street. The practice of removal before Cumberland Street was illegal. It was also noted that the carriage companies could be fined as much as $1,100 per incident.
Ordinance needs to be enforced,
The medallion system was devised by the City for the protection of residents and the preservation of the quality of living. In its wisdom, the City chose to limit the number of carriages at any one time in Zones 1 to 3 to 20. Citizens and carriage companies may argue that it should be less or more. But it does not matter. The limit is 20, and if this is the law, the limit should be enforced. The tag “shagging” that takes place may not boost the number of carriages significantly above 20 but it is a breach of the law and should be dealt with as such. Citizens who witness tag removals before Cumberland Street should call Officer Wilson at 843 709 1985. We also think the telephone number should be visible at the back of the carriage to facilitate the reporting of infringements.
City needs to regulate tours in Zones 4 and 5
We also think that the present definition of Zones 3 is too broad and most of the areas already included in Zones 4 and 5 should be excluded from Zone 3. We feel the City should also consider placing limits on carriage tours of Zones 4 and 5. Although permission for tours in Zones 4 and 5 must be sought from the police at present, the limitations are not clear or transparent. They need to be. The residents of Zones 4 and 5 are entitled to the same sort of protection from excessive numbers of carriage tours as those in Zones 1, 2 and 3.