Colombia’s capital city plans to spend US$39.2 million to remove horse-drawn carts and compensate 2,890 drivers.
Bogotá resident Ramón Padilla, 36, travels through the streets of Colombia’s capital city with his 10-year-old horse Simon, in search of scrap metal, cardboard, wooden boxes and other recyclables.
Alongside cars, buses and motorcycles, they travel dozens of kilometers a day, wearing down Simon’s horseshoes, which must be changed weekly.
There are a total of 2,890 horse-drawn cart drivers – 53% of whom collect recyclables like Padilla – in Bogotá, according to a census by the District Secretariat of Mobility.
Yet, starting in September 2013, with the implementation of the city’s Comprehensive Alternative and Substitutive Plan (PIAS), horses will no longer be part of Bogotá’s cityscape.
More than a decade after the introduction of the 2002 National Traffic Code, which prohibits the horse-drawn vehicles in Bogotá’s urban areas, officials will start enforcing this law.
“The law cites three complaints made against horse cart drivers: mistreatment of animals, traffic complications and the issue of aesthetics in the city,” Padilla said.
To replace the horses, PIAS offers drivers three options: a motor vehicle with a load capacity of at least 750 kilograms; help developing a business plan or opening a franchise; and, in the case of the elderly or disabled, funds to buy or renovate their home.
According to estimates from the District Secretariat of Mobility of Bogotá, 90% of the drivers taking part in the initiative are expected to choose the first option. On March 6, the first trucks were delivered and drivers without licenses will receive free driving classes and exams.
Among the possible business ideas are a transport company and a beauty salon.
Whichever option is chosen, the benefit will not exceed $21.2 million Colombian pesos (US$11,766) per participant, which is equivalent to three years of pay at the current minimum wage ($589,500 Colombian pesos). In total, PIAS is expected to cost the government approximately $71 billion Colombian pesos (US$39.4 million).
For drivers with more than one registered horse, PIAS plans to offer 1.5 times the minimum wage rate for the second animal.
The future for the horses
The horses will undergo medical exams and receive necessary veterinary and dental care. When needed, the animals will undergo surgical procedures and in cases involving infectious equine anemia, the animals will be euthanized.
After receiving treatment, these animals will be put up for adoption.
“I’m going to miss my horse. We became friends. I took care of him, fed him and combed his mane every day,” said Padilla, who has collected recyclables for the past eight years.
The District Secretariat of Mobility has signed an agreement with Colombia’s University of Applied and Environmental Sciences (UDCA), the first entity responsible for receiving the animals.
“These horses are overworked and approximately 90% of them suffer physical abuse or are malnourished. Some die at a very young age in traffic accidents,” said Teresa Carvajal Salcedo, a member of the UDCA team responsible for the project. “All of these factors contribute to a 40% decline in life expectancy for these horses.”
Silvio Ruiz Grisales, the leader of the Bogotá Association of Recyclers (ARB), said only a small minority of drivers mistreat their animals.
“I know many cases in which the horse is a member of the family because they know that it’s the horse that provides them with sustenance,” Ruiz said. “The loss of a horse would be a major emotional loss.”
But he recognizes the animals don’t have an ideal quality of life.
“It’s difficult for the horse,” he said. “The traffic and horns can cause stress. I know the horses are going to do well because [officials are] not going to give them to just anybody.”
Plan is a step forward
PIAS states drivers will have to bear the costs of their new equipment.
“With the horse, we provide grass, corn husks, carrots and vitamins. The day-to-day cost of a vehicle could be more expensive because we have to pay for fuel and maintenance,” Padilla said.
During the Fair for Alternatives during the Process of Substituting Animal-Drawn Vehicles, which was held in January 2013, Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro suggested the plan’s beneficiaries join together and purchase, for example, stronger vehicles for transporting cargo.
Ruiz said that the plan is a step forward.
“Previously, they simply wanted to ban horses and the drivers weren’t going to receive anything,” he says. “This time, we managed to negotiate compensation.”