The Italian Almanac

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Roman buggy

Black Box for buggies

Rome city council is mulling plans to install `black boxes` in the capital`s controversial horse-driven buggies after a horse died on the job. Under new plans, all horses will be equipped with pedometers and microchips in an effort to regulate the buggies, which take tourists on romantic rides through the city`s old cobbled streets.

``We will adopt pedometers as a sort of taxi metre that will also work as a black box. It will tell us how many hours a horse has worked and if the obligatory breaks have been respected,`` said Rome council`s environment chief, Fabio De Lillo. City law requires drivers to give horses a 30 minute break after every trip they make and in summer months bans the animals from working under the baking sun between 13.00 and 17.00.

Controls will also be stepped up, increasing from just once a year to once a month, and twice a month during the summer, De Lillo said. ``The police will have a reader for the microchips that all horses will have, and which will contain information on the age of the animal, on the identity of its driver and above all on the number of checks it`s had``. De Lillo said most drivers, vets and animal welfare associations were behind the plans.

Animal rights group ENPA began lobbying Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno to ban the buggies altogether in July, claiming that the horses were mistreated and locked up in their communal stables ``sometimes for weeks`` before being ``cruelly sent to the butcher when they aren`t needed any more``. Campaigners say that coping with Rome`s smog and traffic-choked streets is also harmful for the animals` health.

ENPA asked Alemanno to convert buggy drivers` authorisation into licenses to drive taxis and said it would guarantee board and lodging for the restful retirement of the 90 animals currently working in the capital. Buggy drivers hit back at the suggestions of animal cruelty, saying they looked after their horses ``as if they were our own children``.

Under a 2004 city council order, all horses in the capital are supposed to wear specially designed nappies to stop them dirtying the city`s streets - but not all drivers abide by the rule.