What is the real cost of a free ride?
Each year, the Downtown Victoria Business Association sponsors free horse-drawn trolley rides through the city of Victoria. This was previously marketed as shopping tours and is supposed to be an attraction to encourage people to spend money in the downtown core during the holiday season. While the tradition of exploiting horses to go in circles where we could otherwise just walk may appear innocent, the cost to the horses and community is anything but.
There should be immediate cause for concern just looking at the route the trolley rides take through the city. These areas are prohibited for the horse carriages to operate the rest of the year due to slow moving nature of the horse carriages and the greater density of traffic. Putting lumbering trolleys loaded with upwards of 30 people, which is a violation of the city’s bylaws, in the downtown core at one of the busiest vehicle traffic times of year is irresponsible. Drivers are often already stressed due to trying to find limited parking in the core and getting from place to place. Getting stuck behind a slow-moving vehicle only adds to that frustration and encourages people to take risks with speeding and maneuvering that would otherwise be avoided without the trolleys. With horses being easily and frequently spooked already in Victoria, there is no reason to risk what happened in Stanley Park with a horse trolley just over a year ago.
For the past two years, Victoria Horse Alliance has walked along-side the horse trolleys as they lumbered through the city and documented the many near misses that occurred. These incidents ranged from children jumping off the trolley while it is moving, trolleys being overloaded, irresponsible driving, improper care of the horses, and reckless behaviour by trolley drivers. However, no action was taken by any accountable body to rectify these issues. Working amongst busy downtown traffic is already bad enough for the horses and these stressful conditions only heighten the potential for accidents. People have been badly injured both physically and psychologically in Victoria because of spooked horses. Since the people riding the trolleys are primarily children, an opportunity to sit on the back of a trailer attached to a objectified and exploited animal for ten-minutes is not worth the risk.
Its Not Free
While we walk quietly with our signs along the routes of the trolley tours, we do not yell at or engage with the drivers. However, the drivers often utter disrespectful slurs towards us while we advocate for the horses. While we never take what they say personally, sometimes they also utter useful information. Last year, one very outspoken driver reported, in her own words, how much the carriage operators were getting paid by the Downtown Victoria Business Association to exploit these horses. At a reported $300/hr we were astounded how much money was being wasted by the organization, which is supposed to be promoting downtown businesses, on such an uninspired and drab promotion. Seriously, you can put Santa-hats and jingle bells on the horses, but seeing them surrounded by rows of cars and trucks can’t pretty up how sad a sight this antiquated amusement really is. A quick estimate puts the cost of the eight trolley tours over four weekends at about $10,000. This seems more about propping up the carriage industry in its down-season than actually promoting downtown business or shopping. Whatever the case, the justification for this spending on something that likely generates zero added spending to the downtown core is spurious at best.
When you ride a horse carriage or trolley, you are supporting animal exploitation.
Throughout the year, we document the operation of the horse carriages as a public interest because there is no other public oversight of this industry. Nearly two dozen cruelty complaints were filed with the BCSPCA over the past two years with no action being taken by the organization. Repeatedly the City of Victoria has been presented with evidence of inhumane and irresponsible operation of the horse carriages, yet they have also been shy of taking any action in the interests of protecting the animals. Veterinarians who oversee care for the horses are entrenched in the horse use industry and even if they found reason for concern, they would not recommend the horses stop working in the street with motor vehicles because they are a part of that community. A former carriage driver recently came forward with allegations of “mistreatment of animals” in the care of the company they worked for. We have documented dozens of incidents with the horse carriages in the past couple years and how many incidents that occurred beyond this is likely much higher. Every time people ride the horse carriages or trolleys they are contributing to the ongoing exploitation of these animals for profit, the mistreatment of them, and the inaction by the City to take action to protect these animals. Since those charged with protecting the interest of these animals will not act, it is up to us as citizens to hold ourselves accountable and choose compassionate entertainment this holiday season that doesn’t include riding on the backs of other vulnerable and less fortunate individuals than ourselves.
Victoria Horse Alliance
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