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Salt Lake City adopts new rules for horse-drawn carriages

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Steve Griffin | Tribune file photo Carriage operator Becky Denson scratches the nose of her horse, Tut, as the pair wait for a fare on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. The Salt Lake City Council will once again take up debate on proposed new regulations for the only carriage company operating in SLC, Carriage for Hire.

By Christopher Smart

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Feb 04 2014 08:45PM
Updated Feb 5, 2014 09:43AM

t was Aug. 17 when a horse pulling a carriage in downtown Salt Lake City collapsed in the heat of the day, leading to calls for a ban on the quaint tourist attraction.

After months of study, public hearings and discussion, the Salt Lake City Council adopted a new ordinance Tuesday evening that would put the city’s only carriage company, Carriage for Hire, under contract as a means to more strictly regulate the business.

But before it was adopted, Councilman Luke Garrott put forward a motion to ban the carriages outright. It failed by a split 3-4 vote.

Although the council’s ordinance sets some new standards for horse-drawn carriages, it left other requirements up to a 10-member "carriage committee" created by the ordinance.

The council determined that carriage horses must be at least 3 years old, should work no more than eight hours a day with a 10-minute break each hour, and should not work more than five days per week.

But it left to the committee the range of weather conditions (high and low temperatures) in which the horses could work, and which routes they could ply downtown, among other things.

Council Chairman Charlie Luke’s suggestions that working conditions should be limited to warmer than 27 degrees and cooler than 90 degrees got the cold shoulder from the majority, as did his proposal that would largely limit the carriages to North Temple and Memory Grove.

Such a route limitation would have put the company out of business, said owner Blaine Overson in an interview outside the council’s afternoon work session.

Earlier, he told the council that in his 27 years operating the business, two horses collapsed on the job and three spooked horses caused accidents.

Carriage for Hire has 19 city permits, meaning that 19 of Overson’s horse-drawn carriages can be on the streets downtown at any given time.

Jeremy Beckham, of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said the council’s decision to create a carriage committee was "punting" the regulation of working horses. He earlier had called for a ban on the carriages downtown.

"I don’t think adding a layer of bureaucracy solves the problem. You already have a complicated [regulatory] scheme with a breakdown in communication," he said.

Salt Lake City contracts with Salt Lake County Animal Services for regulating all animal-related issues. But accident reports from Salt Lake City police often haven’t found their way to Salt Lake County Animal Services.

More recently, Beckham has complained that the carriage company has not complied with the existing ordinance by operating during rush-hour traffic. The ordinance restricts them from operating between 7 and 9 a.m., and between 4 and 6 p.m.

He also noted that the company had lied about the horse in question by saying he was on the mend and supplying a photo of another healthy horse to news outlets.

But Councilman Kyle LaMalfa deemed the new ordinance a success.

"If carriage horse contractors don’t behave, we can fire them," he said of the new contract-based ordinance. "The carriage committee can make real changes in how they are operated."

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