CITY HALL — A new ordinance would allow horse-drawn carriages to operate more during the year, but drivers with felony records would be restricted from driving the carriages.
A City Council committee approved the ordinance on horse-drawn carriages Monday that imposes a five-year ban on felons as drivers.
"They can't even drive a horse carriage?" Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) queried during a meeting Monday. "What, they can't pick up dog doo-doo next?"
The felon crackdown brings the carriage operator's label of "chauffeur" into line with other city chauffeur licenses, but Burnett said the restrictions go too far by lumping nonviolent felons in with violent ones.
"We have to give people an opportunity to redeem themselves," Burnett added. "If he can't drive a horse in the freezing cold, we might as well put a gun in his hand and tell him to go out and rob people."
Burnett said that the CTA has a program for hiring felons, adding, "They can drive for CTA, but they can't drive a horse?"
Redeatu Kassa, of the city Law Department, said the ordinance was required to bring "consistency" into the definition of a "chauffeur" in all city ordinances. He said it would be difficult to change the restrictions just for carriage drivers.
Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), chairman of the License Committee, asked for a sense of "reality," saying, "There is clearly a difference between a chauffeur in a vehicle and a chauffeur on a horse."
Ald. Nick Sposato (36th) moved to "pass it and work on it later," before it goes to the full Council. The proposal passed, but with Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) voting no.
The new ordinance would increase renewal fees from $400 to $500 a year, bringing them in line with the original $500 fee for a license. Maximum fines for violating city rules would double from $500 to $1,000.
But the main point of the ordinance moves the temperature-reading site to determine if it's safe to operate the carriages from O'Hare International Airport to Northerly Island. That change figures to give a higher temperature reading in the winter and a lower one in the summer, thus allowing more days for the carriages to operate.
According to Rupal Bapat of the city's Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, there are 25 licensed, horse-drawn carriages owned by four companies, and 32 licensed drivers of carriages citywide.
She defended moving the temperature site from O'Hare to Northerly Island, saying, "It's closer to the actual weather conditions where the horse-drawn carriages are working," which is primarily around Water Tower Place.
It's considered unsafe for horses to work if the temperature is 15 degrees or lower, or 90 degrees or higher.