Motorized buggies to replace horses on Mérida streets under new proposal

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Lee Steele
Lee Steele
Lee Steele is the founding director of Roof Cat Media and has published Yucatán Magazine and other titles since 2012. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
Mérida Mayor Renán Barrera Concha has endorsed a longstanding proposal to promote horseless carriages for tourists. Photo: Courtesy

A proposal to reduce animal cruelty by promoting horseless tourist carriages was introduced by Mérida Mayor Renán Barrera Concha, who is running for another term.

The PAN politician presented his “Comprehensive Plan for Calesas in Mérida,” which would motorize horse-and-buggies and pay to “eradicate animal abuse.”  

The mayor won election in 2018 after defeating a rival who had proposed setting the horses free and motorizing tourist carriages.

Carriage rides are a traditional tourist attraction in a city where ever-suffering horses were a major form of labor well into the 20th century.

In Parque La Ermita, Barrera Concha said it is possible to honor traditions and have civil dialogue on the subject. The horse-and-buggy drivers, hoping to join the rest of the tourist industry in a pandemic-era comeback, denied that horses are abused.

Mérida Mayor Renán Barrera Concha has endorsed a longstanding proposal to promote horseless carriages for tourists. Photo: Courtesy

The carriages the major introduced today are styled to resemble something out of a storybook, down to the coach lights and tufted seats. But they cost hundreds of thousands of pesos and require more complicated maintenance.

The coachmen would be willing to use electric buggies, however, in return for monetary support, said Eduardo de Jesús Echeverría Navarro, who leads the workers.

“We are not closed to dialogue,” said Echeverría Navarro. “The only reality is that we do not have money to buy the buggies.”

Fans of the carriage also question if an electric vehicle, no matter how cute, has the tourist appeal of a horse-drawn carriage.

The mayor said the plan is not a ban but a “voluntary” program that has been successful in other cities.

In the United States, New York City’s mayor has been trying to get the iconic Central Park carriages banned as well. Other major cities have already accomplished just that. Chicago, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City and the Florida cities of Key West, Palm Beach, Pompano Beach and Treasure Island all ban horse-drawn carriages in city streets.

A horse-drawn carriage awaits passengers at the Plaza Grande. Photo: Ron Allanach

Montreal, Amsterdam, Istanbul, Barcelona, Cozumel, Guadalajara, San Juan, Mumbai, and cities in Belgium, Chile, Egypt, Italy and the Dominican Republic have also stopped the tradition.

While riding down the Paseo de Montejo in a flowery horse-drawn carriage seems romantic, advocates for animals say that the trip is anything but enjoyable for the horses involved.

The horses work for a grueling nine hours each and every day in a noisy, stressful and dangerous environment surrounded by cars, trucks and buses. Many are hit by cars, are choked by car exhaust and walk on hot asphalt, resulting in a low life expectancy, they say.

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