The municipal codes that govern Chicago horse carriages were written in 1983 and routinely amended until 1990. Amendments have been sporadic in the past 28 years with the most recent added in 2015. Despite repeated requests from the industry to amend other out-of-date codes, the city has been mostly silent until recently when a pair of aldermen proposed their own as-yet unofficial amendment: “No horse-drawn carriage license shall be renewed.”
Many of the original codes were copied from the taxicab industry and the mounted police department. The hours of operation code came from the mounted force but was inherently flawed. First, it was supposed to read eight hours not six. Second, the average 1000 lb. riding horses of the mounted force carry up-to and over 200 lbs. on their back throughout their shift. A 1700 lb. carriage horse carries approximately 70 lbs. of harness and carriage shaft weight. When standing at rest, a carriage horse’s load is proportionally equivalent to a 50 lb. child wearing a 2 lb. backpack. The rest of the weight is born by the carriage itself and drawing the load is a physics lesson in momentum aided by wheel bearings and flat city streets.
For over 35 years, the hours of operation went unenforced. Other codes came and went, all with spotty enforcement but never was a citation issued for a horse working longer than six hours. It is worth noting that Chicago has no horse or human fatalities and most of the current working horses have been part of the industry since the early 2000’s. Clearly, working longer than six hours has never affected Chicago’s carriage horses.
In February 2017, carriage owners were blindsided when nearly 50 tickets arrived in the
mail. Shocked, they discovered that investigators had not documented these violations in person. Instead, two known animal rights extremists had submitted photographs of carriages they believed were violating municipal codes.
When a person makes a Civil or Municipal complaint to a government office, they are mailed a lengthy packet to complete and return with a statement and/or evidence. An investigator reviews the information and can choose to investigate the matter in person, issue a citation based solely on the evidence, or disregard the complaint altogether. A motivated complainant may submit as many complaints and fill out as many packets as they are willing to spend time completing.
If someone photographs you allegedly violating a civil code, they can submit their image to the government. An investigator can review the image and issue you a ticket, all without witnessing or investigating the matter in person. City attorneys will offer to settle the matter for a smaller fine or let you stand in front of a hearing officer and risk paying the full fine. When you ask to see the evidence against you, the citation IS the evidence. City attorneys defer to the investigator who signed your citation whether the alleged violation is witnessed in person or based solely on third party evidence. In a municipal hearing, the investigator does not have to be present to defend their findings. To face the original accuser and their evidence against you, you must take the issue out of the municipal hearing department and into an actual court of law. This requires more time, money, and often, an attorney. Not surprisingly, most people pay the offered settlement and go on with life.
For the carriage companies, fines were as high as $1000 apiece. Companies faced multiple fines, and the amount necessary to contest the allegations vastly outweighed the offered settlement. Owners chose to settle and immediately requested a meeting with the commissioner in charge of the industry. During the meeting, it was agreed that the system was being abused and the number and method of citations was questionable. The meeting concluded with the owners being led to believe that the harassment would come to an end. But shortly thereafter, a new commissioner took office.
Meanwhile, the animal rights extremists unleashed a hailstorm of complaints and completed packets, inundating city offices. Inspectors continued churning out citations in the mail. The backlog of complaints and packets, ranging from minor traffic violations like rolling through a stop sign to the six hour rule, flooded mailboxes throughout the summer and fall of 2017.
Again the owners reached out, but were told they were dealing with a “complaint-driven office.” If people chose to complete the lengthy paperwork necessary to pursue their complaint, investigators could issue citations based on photos instead of performing in-person investigations. The new commissioner has thus far shown herself to be unwilling to address the issue.
Unless the aldermen and the commissioner allow carriages to operate under fairly drafted and sensibly enforced regulations, the fate of Chicago’s horse drawn carriages remains uncertain at best.