Riding roughshod over the law

The clippity clop of hooves on CBD streets is soothing to most but is increasingly annoying to the City of Melbourne.

The council and the horse-drawn vehicle operators are locked in a bitter battle over permit conditions compliance.

Some operators, the council says, are now operating without street trading permits – presenting an even greater regulatory challenge.

The situation has become so strained that Cr Rohan Leppert is suggesting that the city might be better off without them.

“I’ve seen enough poor behaviour from some operators and witnessed enough enforcement problems to make me think that we should wind them up and not renew their permits,” Cr Leppert said.

Cr Leppert said operators regularly broke traffic laws including driving up tram tracks and in dedicated bicycle lanes. 

He said he was also concerned about the welfare of the animals on very hot days.

“What I fear is that there is going to be a terrible accident before something is done about this problem,” Cr Leppert said.

Carriage operators need a council street-trading permit because they accept money from customers approaching them on the street.

However, Cr Leppert said the council could only act against them while they were stationary. Speaking on unrelated matter at the council’s Future Melbourne Committee meeting on October 14, the council’s engineering services manager Geoff Robinson virtually admitted the council was powerless.

“We have a myriad of people out there taking photos of horse-drawn vehicles (doing the wrong thing), taking pictures of people crossing the roads at the wrong time, all of which is completely unenforceable,” he said.

“You have to actually have an authorised officer right there at the time.  The law will not allow us to go and do it remotely. And that’s the inherent difficulty with it.  We’ve got limited numbers.”

“There are people with street-trading permits for things that move around the city, whether it be human-powered or horse-powered or otherwise-powered who seem to make almost a sport of not complying with the conditions which have quite reasonably been applied,” Mr Robinson said.

Mr Robinson told councillors that some operators did not have permits but there was little remedy available to the council.

“There are two operators out there now who are not trading with a permit.  They operate on the premise of accepting booked fares, but when you stand there next to the operator with an alleged booked fare, money changes hands.  It’s just not the way it’s meant to be,” he said.

“It requires a constant level of reinforcement, gradual escalation.  It reached a point a little while ago where we were really cross and we went out and issued a notice to comply and breach and then this cat and mouse game ensued to the point where we were able to issue a fine.  We did it twice to the one operator who cried foul.”

“What it did, was bring them back to the table for a quick meeting, but that’s all."

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