Carriage operators say San Antonio needs to hold its horses on proposed ban

Proposal begins committee process after 16-month wait

SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio is debating whether horse-drawn carriage operators should still be allowed in the bustling downtown - or anywhere in the Alamo City.

The city council’s Governance Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to send a proposal to ban horse-drawn carriages over to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for consideration. The specifics haven’t been decided yet, but the vote means the 16-month-old request is still alive.

“Many people romanticize the idea of horse-drawn carriages in San Antonio, but the reality is that they don’t belong in our city streets, especially not downtown,” said Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2), who proposed the ban along with Councilwoman Phyllis Viagran (D4).

The pair filed a Council Consideration Request (CCR) in November 2022, asking city staff to develop a plan to phase out the use of horse-drawn carriages. They also asked for a program to transition the horse carriage workforce over to pedicabs and electric carriages by the end of 2023.

However, their request only made it to the Governance Committee - the first step for any CCR on Wednesday.

“I’ll admit I thought the request had been killed, but I’m always down for a surprise” McKee-Rodriguez quipped as he addressed the committee.

Though the original CCR calls for a total ban, McKee-Rodriguez suggested on Wednesday the carriages could also be relocated to “some of our major parks or safe designated areas off of city streets.”

Ban supporter’s arguments revolve around two main points: animal welfare and general safety in the increasingly congested downtown streets.

Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8), who is running for mayor in 2025, focused on the first point as he listed off headlines from around the country, and world, of horses collapsing in the streets, though none of the examples were from San Antonio.

“I can’t be a city council person that in good faith says, ‘you know what? Let’s just keep doing it the way we’ve always done and risk viral videos of horses dropping dead downtown,’” Pelaez said.

The city has issued horse carriage permits since 1865. There are five permitted companies in the city, which are each permitted to have up to five carriages on the street at any one time.

Stephanie Garcia owns two of those companies, Yellow Rose and HRH. She says the city hasn’t tried to engage her or the other operators yet.

“I’m hoping that they’re going to come to the table and sit down and discuss things with us and speak to our experts, our vets, all the Animal Care Services, and see how we work,” Garcia said. “I’m happy to compromise. I will sit down with them, but they have got to sit down with us. They can’t just move on and ignore what we’re saying and our views.”

Garcia said transitioning her workforce of roughly 50 contractors over to pedicabs or electric carriages would not be feasible.

Some of the drivers are elderly, she said, and many wouldn’t be able to physically operate pedicabs. As for electric carriages, Garcia said the ones available don’t work well.

There isn’t any enthusiasm among operators for moving out of downtown either, which is where the bulk of the tourism business is.

San Antonio is one of two Texas cities currently considering bans on horse-drawn carriages. A Dallas City Council committee has already sent its proposed ban to the full council.

About the Authors

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.

Luis Cienfuegos is a photographer at KSAT 12.

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