Rome is to ban horse-drawn carriages from city streets, but animal rights activists have criticised the authorities for not abolishing the mode of transport altogether.
The city’s mayor, Virginia Raggi, said the open-topped carriages, which are a lucrative business for tour operators, would be banned from the streets of the Italian capital but not the parks.
“Carriages will no longer be able to circulate in the streets, in the traffic, but only inside the historic parks,” she wrote on Facebook. “You will never again see tired horses on the streets of the city during the hottest hours of the summer months, because we have expressly forbidden it.”
Activists have long campaigned for a total ban of the outdated practice, arguing that the animals are subjected to inhumane labour. Known as botticelle, tour operators charge as much as €350 (£316) for horses to cart four people around key monuments of Rome for two hours.
“In 2016, Raggi guaranteed the abolition of horse-drawn carriages and not simply their transferral to parks, so these horses will continue to be exploited,” said Rinaldo Sidoli, a spokesman for the animal and environmental activist group Alleanza Popolare Ecologista. “They also haven’t established a date for when this will begin, so for us this announcement is empty.”
Sidoli said the only positive element is that horses would no longer circulate amid street traffic. A law forbidding horse-drawn carriages from doing their rounds in temperatures above 30C was already in place.
There have been several cases over the years of horses either collapsing on the street or dying. In October last year a horse fell on Via dei Condotti, a busy shopping street in the city centre, after slipping on a manhole cover. The driver of the carriage allegedly ignored pleas from onlookers to have the horse checked by a veterinarian, choosing instead to continue the tour towards the nearby Spanish Steps once the animal was back on its feet.
In June 2008, a horse died after being hit by a car while towing a carriage along a road by the Tiber River. A few months later, another died while working near the Colosseum. In the summer of 2012, a horse collapsed by the Spanish Steps, with the driver attempting to beat the animal back to work before being stopped by police.
Carriage drivers have often openly brawled with animal rights activists over the practice. About 80 horses, which are kept in stables in the Testaccio area, are still working.
A succession of mayors has pledged to ban the horse-drawn carriages, with Raggi making it a campaign promise ahead of her election in June 2016. The idea of replacing them with electric vehicles never came to pass.
The number of people with licences to drive the carriages has fallen to about 23 in recent years as drivers took advantage of an option to convert their licences to taxi permits.
The head of the carriage drivers’ association, Angelo Sed, said Raggi’s move was a blow to those already struggling to stay afloat due to the coronavirus pandemic. “Trade in the parks will never be the same as the sort of business you can do in the city centre,” he said.