Officials Crack Down On Horseplay At Liberty Bell
PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Pushing and jostling by drivers of horse-drawn carriages competing for passengers near the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall have spurred officials to adopt tough rules to restore decorum at the historic site.
″It was like a carnival; the whole thing has just been terrible,″ said Hobart Cawood, superintendent of Independence National Historical Park, which draws 4.7 million visitors a year.
″We really got so many complaints about soliciting getting out of hand, we started cracking down.″
Hacks from four private companies pick up fares on a street located between the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, where the founding fathers drafted the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
Pushing and shoving matches flared in July when a new company joined three existing carriage concerns. To get a fare, one carriage backed into another causing ″the horse to rear and almost causing a wife, husband and two children to be thrown out,″ Cawood said.
The new rules adopted in August limit soliciting, govern drivers’ dress, require diapers for the horses and ban unattended horses. The permits expire Jan. 31, when park officials can renew or revoke them.
″We drafted a much tighter, restrictive permit, but we think the rules are reasonable,″ Cawood said in a recent interview.
Soliciting on federal property is a privilege, not a right, he said. ″If this one doesn’t work out, I’m going to put everybody out of business. We’ll do away with it. If they don’t do it our way, they’re not going to do it at all.″
Carriages, licensed by the state Public Utility Commission, have operated since 1976 around the park. A 20-minute ride for up to four riders costs $10.
″Our personnel have a million things to do besides watching carriage operations,″ said Cawood. ″It’s one of those little nagging management problems you run into from time to time.″
At least one company, feeling saddled by what it thinks are restrictive rules, has threatened to sue the park. Jim Slocum, 58, owner of 76 Carriage Co., said, ″Those rules are unworkable. He took away our freedom. I’m losing the business. It’s a matter of fighting or going under.″
″Our business is down 60 percent. I lost $5,000 over the Labor Day weekend. I can’t maintain this type of operation under these circumstances. It’s cutthroat,″ said Slocum, whose company has 28 carriages.
The company was suspended for a week in August for contract violations, Cawood said.
Vickie Williams, a driver for Outback Farms, the new company, said the tougher rules have lessened the bickering.
″It got to the point where people would get disgusted and walk away,″ said Williams, 23, a mother of two. ″I come out here to make a living for my kids, not to come out here and fight.″
A driver can earn $50 to $70 a day with tips on a good day, and a carriage can bring in up to $500 a day, she said.
″There’s enough out here for everybody,″ said Williams, who said she was harassed, threatened and insulted by rival drivers. ″I think the new contract is good. Everybody gets a fair chance to make a living. One person doesn’t monopolize.″
Cawood said the site was ″sort of a sacred place.
″To bring money-changers into the temple, they’re going to have to behave themselves and do things the right way. We’re not going to put up with sloppy, sorry, no-account businesses.″