Tougher Vienna horse carriage law ahead

People offering tours through the city centre of Vienna in horse carriages must brace for stricter regulations as the provincial government agreed to reform existing laws.The government coalition of Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the Green Party said today (Mon) that the entrepreneurs running the service – which is popular with tourists – will face  fines of up to 3,500 Euros if they are caught breaking any of the new restrictions.Viennese SPÖ Councillor Ulli Sima explained that all Fiaker carriages have to be equipped with so-called Poo Bags to ensure that no faeces end up on the city’s streets. Such a ruling went into effect seven years ago, but many horse carriage drivers chose simply to risk paying a fine if they were caught, rather than getting a bag.Sima and Green Vienna boss Maria Vassilakou announced that in around six months, when the adoption of the current legal framework comes into effect, all Fiaker horse carriages will have to wear licence plates.Drivers will also have to keep logbooks to help veterinarians and city officials check whether the animals are fed regularly and get enough rest.There are 40 companies owning approximately 200 carriages in Vienna. Just 58 of them are allowed to offer their services in the city centre at the same time. Hundreds of tourists go for a ride in the two-horse carriages everyday.Sima and Vassilakou stressed that the vast majority of horse carriage drivers have been sticking to the law. The councillors explained the reform was an attempt to crack down on the few Fiaker businesspeople who have been breaking rules.Political commentators are little surprised by the toughening of regulations since such a step has been expected to happen at any time when the Greens entered the city government last year.Animal activists and other critics said they were wondering why it took the Social Democrats so long to improve the regulations regarded as too lax by many. The SPÖ has been part of the government in the city since the end of the war without any interruptions. It had an absolute majority in seats in the city parliament for most of that time.The reputation of Vienna’s horse carriage drivers suffered immensely during the past months due to a string of unfortunate incidents.A six-year-old horse died on the spot under unclear circumstances at the Heldenplatz Square in the city centre some weeks ago.Campaigners have pointed out for years that the horses had to stand and wait in the stifling heat of the summer and at subzero temperatures in the cold season.Last May, a Fiaker driver was hospitalised after he was run over by his own carriage in Vienna. The man, 34, got off the parked carriage when his horses suddenly bolted. The animals, reportedly startled by a passing tram, trampled over their owner before coming to a halt a few metres further along.