Charleston is considering several new changes to its tourism ordinance, including a new section that defines the Department of Livability and Tourism's authority to shut down carriage tours during extreme weather and other emergencies.
Some carriage tour operators have concerns about the proposed addition, citing a history of voluntarily stopping tours in bad weather.
The suggested change was prompted after the department's director, Dan Riccio, decided to suspend carriage activity due to a severe thunderstorm warning early last month.
Tours were suspended for about an hour, Riccio said. Charleston C.A.R.E.S., a group of three local carriage companies, later appealed his decision.
“It has always been to the discretion of the individual carriage companies to decide if and when tours should pause due to inclement weather, and we believe that it should remain as such,” the group wrote in its appeal.
Riccio said his authority to do so was “already implied” in the ordinance, but the proposed change would explicitly lay out the department’s ability to suspend carriage tour operations when facing weather conditions that present “a substantial risk of injury to horses or carriage passengers.”
Tyler Jones, a spokesman for Charleston C.A.R.E.S. — which includes Charleston Carriage Works, Old South Carriage Company and Palmetto Carriage Works — said the companies "already take precautions in extreme weather," noting that companies suspended operations during heavy rainfall and flooding on Tuesday.
On Thursday, a committee for the city's Tourism Commission voted to approve the proposed change. For it to be adopted, the new language will still need to be approved by the full Tourism Commission and by City Council.
Charleston’s carriage tour industry is governed by a section of a city ordinance that covers everything from route limitations to weight requirements and, more recently, new methods of tracking where horses and mules relieve themselves on city streets.
The section on weather conditions, as it’s written now, states that carriage operators and drivers must “use caution” when working animals during adverse weather conditions like snow, ice or rain. The section then goes on to explain the process for shutting down carriage tours due to extreme heat.
In order to temporarily call off carriage tours, the Department of Livability and Tourism has to record four consecutive readings of either a temperature at or above 95 degrees Fahrenheit or a heat index of 110. Those readings have to be taken at least 15 minutes apart.
That happened for four consecutive days last month when the area experienced historically high temperatures.
A draft of the ordinance change that the committee reviewed Thursday states that the new addition “will not be construed as creating different heat restrictions” than those already laid out in the ordinance.
The committee reviewed several other proposed changes, including two more that are specific to the carriage industry. If adopted, they would require tour companies to provide verified weights for their animals and carriages.
Though the companies already report those weights to the city, they can be estimates, Riccio said. The revised policy calls for written documentation from a "certified scale."
Those weights are then recorded in the city's database, Riccio said, and are used to calculate the appropriate amount of weight a horse can carry. The city uses averages from the FAA to estimate the total weight of a carriage's passenger load.