Goodbye horses, city carriages go electric

It is no longer the time for horse-drawn carriages because there are electric motors to replace them. A choice in line with the need to make cities more sustainable and, even more so, to safeguard the wellbeing of animals, which are forced to transport tourists around the world during all seasons and in all weather conditions. The first attempt to replace horses was completed in Brussels, where the first electric horse-drawn carriage was already in operation, allowing interested persons a city tour of the Belgian capital’s medieval buildings.

According to initial feedback, the solution that fits in with contemporary perceptions and feelings about animals and the environment has been well received by tourists, who are attracted by the charm of a means of transport that harks back to a distant but not forgotten past.

The Brussels Model

The project was initiated in the summer of 2022, when Victoria Austraet focused on the prohibitive weather conditions where the horses had to work, with temperatures approaching 30°C. “In past years, the managers have avoided letting the horses out on hot days. It is a shame and a danger to their health to let them work in certain conditions,’ the DierAnimal party representative, the first animal rights MP elected to a Belgian regional parliament, said at the time in 2019.

The Brussels administration planned to stop the horse-drawn carriages and halt the service for a year, pending the availability of the electric version again. Driving the first horse-drawn carriage through the city streets at the beginning of June was Thibault Danthine, the historical face of the Belgian capital who ran the horse-drawn carriages for ten years.

First electric carriages in Brussels
First electric carriages in Brussels

Last year, Danthine deliberately gave up the service in order to invest in electrics and return to driving tourists through the streets. The reasons for the suspension go beyond technological developments, as they describe complex logistical and operational dynamics that people are unfamiliar with. “Everything became more and more difficult logistically because I would have to move the stables, but finding a stable that can accommodate four horses, manure, and all the other tools in the middle of the city is very complicated,” Danthine told RTBF. “It’s also not easy to get it right in terms of human resources because there are very few people who can drive a horse in the city and speak two or three languages.

An effective solution for combining antique and modern

With the switch to the electric carriage, the need to find skilled horse drivers falls away; instead, it remains a fun and alternative service for visiting the hidden corners of the Belgian capital. “This evolution allows the city to have an offer that respects the environment and the heritage of our city centre, but also to keep up with modern times, thanks to a solution that differentiates us from other European cities,” said Fabian Mangin, Councillor for Economic Affairs of Brussels.

Over the coming months, three electric carriages will become available for tourists, with the possibility of tours on different routes, although the starting point will always be the Grande Place. The price is fixed for each carriage, regardless of the number of people on board, with city tours costing 70 euros. It will be difficult to return to the golden years of horse-drawn carriages when as many as 15,000 people used the service in one year. Compared to the past, however, the electric carriage does not get tired and does not need a break, and in comparison to horses, it requires much less money for maintenance. Looking at the investment in the medium to long term, Danthine is the most satisfied.

Alessio Caprodossi is a technology, sports, and lifestyle journalist. He navigates between three areas of expertise, telling stories, experiences, and innovations to understand how the world is shifting. You can follow him on Twitter (@alecap23) and Instagram (Alessio Caprodossi) to report projects and initiatives on startups, sustainability, digital nomads, and web3.