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Horse-Drawn Carriage Ban in Chicago? Alderman Calls Industry 'Obsolete'

By  Jen Sabella and Josh McGhee | February 5, 2014 11:40am 

 An alderman is calling for an end to the horse-drawn carriage industry in Chicago, calling it "unsafe and obsolete."
An alderman is calling for an end to the horse-drawn carriage industry in Chicago, calling it "unsafe and obsolete."
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Flickr/ Harry Pujols

DOWNTOWN — An alderman is calling for an end to horse-drawn carriages in Chicago, calling them "unsafe and obsolete," which has one industry owner disheartened.

Ald. Ed Burke (14th) introduced legislation Wednesday that would ban carriages on Chicago streets. The move comes after a similar plan stalled in New York City, where newly-elected mayor Bill de Blasio vowed to end the practice.

"Carriage rides have outlived their usefulness in Chicago in 2014," Burke said in a statement. "I would argue it is an unsafe and obsolete tradition that our city should simply ban."

Currently, the city has a slew of regulations on horse-drawn carriages — horses must wear diapers and can't operate during rush hour or in extreme temperatures.

"Despite all of these rules and regulations, the larger questions still remains as to whether horse-drawn carriages should operate at all in Chicago," Burke said. "It is my goal, at a minimum, to begin that discussion."

Burke said he decided to propose the ban after the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) contacted him, and added that the issue is also about "compassion toward animals."

Larry Ortega, owner of Chicago Horse & Carriage was disheartened when he heard Burke's comments, and he offered the alderman an invitation to "see what it's all about."

"I think there's a lot of unknowns about how we operate," Ortega said, adding his business is an "open book" faithfully following the regulations the city has placed on him. "I hope to have a conversation with him to explain what's going on."

Ortega has owned Chicago Horse & Carriage for nearly 34 years. He's watched the business thrive with 60 carriages during its heyday in the 1980s, to now, with business dwindling and his company running only 23 carriages. The company now operates only about 200 days a year depending on the weather.

The idea that the carriages were "unsafe" were completely off-base, he said.

"Our record speaks for itself. We've never had a fatality in 30 years," Ortega said.

Ortega hopes to survive by showing his company's role as a driver of tourism in the city.

"We're ambassadors to our city. What we lend to the city is irreplaceable," he said. "You want to see a happy tourist, come to our stand. They want to see the horses. They want to pet the horses even if they don't take a ride."