By Sunny Liu
The City of Melbourne will not renew street-trading permits for CBD horse-drawn carriage operators from July 1.
Council said horse-drawn vehicles would not be able to park or offer rides on Swanston St due to safety risks and the current constructions of the Metro Tunnel project.
The carriage parking area on the corner of Swanston and Flinders streets will be removed.
The current street-trading permit allows horse-drawn carriage operators to sell their services for cash within the municipality.
Carriage operators will be allowed to take online bookings and pick up and drop off passengers at the parking area near Alexandra Gardens in St Kilda Rd.
There are five operators that run up to 14 carriages in the CBD and three companies operating without a permit.
Council said it conducted broad community consultation with stakeholders from December 2016 before deciding to stop issuing the permit.
Lord Mayor Robert Doyle said horse-drawn carriages and other vehicles “don’t mix”.
“Horse-drawn vehicles, modern traffic, busy city, a million people a day. They just don’t mix … We’ve have a couple of pretty near misses,” he said.
“We need to ensure that Swanston St is a safe and accessible civic space for all Melburnians and visitors to the city,” Cr Doyle said.
Horse-drawn carriages will still be able to operate on roads because they are classified as vehicles under VicRoads’ rules.
“This reality is they are defined as vehicles. So they can travel through the city if they wish to do that. I can’t stop them,” Cr Doyle said.
“My preference is that they don’t, because I don’t think horse-drawn vehicles and modern traffic mix. But I have no power to stop them. It is a matter for VicRoads.”
Campaign manager of animal-right group Melbourne Against Horse-Drawn Carriages, Kristin Leigh, welcomed council’s decision to stop renewing the permits.
The group rallied on Swanston St on June 10 to celebrate “the huge step in the right direction” and called for council and VicRoads to end the practice.
Ms Leigh said council could not hand the responsibility to VicRoads.
“Wiping their hands off any responsibilities by handballing it over to VicRoads means this exploitative trade will continue and is unacceptable.”
Ms Leigh said that, despite the expiry of the current street-trading permits, horse-drawn carriage operators would still be able to take pre-bookings online.
“We don’t see it as the final solution. We think the City of Melbourne needs to work with VicRoads and actively enforce the local law to ensure operators do not continue to street trade,” she said.
“Pre-bookings are just a small part of the carriage business, so hopefully the business won’t be able to survive. People should not be able to use animals for profit.”
Dean Crichton, owner of Unique Carriage Hire in the CBD, said council’s decision was “unfair” and animal right groups were “misleading the public”.
Mr Crichton said horse-drawn carriages were very popular among visitors and locals and were an important element of Melbourne’s unique character.
“In one of the surveys the council did previously, horse-drawn carriages were voted the second most popular attraction in the CBD, just after Melbourne’s cafes,” he said. “The public love it.”
He said the expiry of permits would be detrimental to his business.
“We will lose 70 per cent of the business. The council’s decision is one-sided and unfair. Cr Doyle is kicking us out of the city and leaving us with nowhere to go,” he said.
Mr Crichton said he had been trading in the CBD for the past 30 years and had not had any serious accidents. He also said he provided good care for the horses.
“An animal extremist group said we make horses work long hours in 40-degree heat. But that’s not true,” he said.
“I have about 100 horses and each of them work only nine hours a week … We are criminalised by the council and animal groups.”
An online petition was started in 2014, calling for a ban on horse-drawn carriages in the CBD.
Unique Carriage Hire has started a new petition to the City of Melbourne, asking for the public and council’s assistance in saving the carriages.