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No nays recorded for this move to improved horse-and-carriage transit in Stanley Park

March 26th, 2014 · 3 Comments

Okay, we all needed a break from the heavy stuff of the week. Here it is, the saga of the horse-and-carriage terminal at Stanley Park. Please excuse the terrible pun in the headline, but it was irresistible. (Thank you, Stan Dellarocca at the Globe’s editing desk, for the suggestion.)

Gerry O’Neil has been trying to get an improvement to his piece of the transit network for as long as TransLink has been trying to get a new source of money to pay for expansions.

But this year, after 15 years of dogged persistence, Mr. O’Neil has finally realized his dream. The region’s transportation authority, meanwhile, is still caught in a tangle of referendum planning and provincial politics.

He is going to get a new terminal for his horses and carriages in Vancouver’s most famous park, where he’s been operating Stanley Park Horse-Drawn Tours on the side of the road for 32 years.

And he’s solving the funding problem – not through increased property or gas taxes, not through road pricing, not through a carbon tax – by paying for the several-hundred-thousand-dollar project himself.

“There’s a bit of faith in it,” said Mr. O’Neil, a transplant from Quebec City who still has a trace of a French accent. He adapted the familiar Quebec tourist feature – horses and carriages – to the West Coast in 1982. “We’re hoping our revenue will increase by 20 per cent. This is so much better for people who want to come and see and smell the big horses.”

The terminal project – currently open for construction bids on the City of Vancouver’s website – will include a new patio area, a sidewalk and a crosswalk. It will also give his horses – which were standing patiently in the heavy rain Tuesday – a level and protected place to stand that is not on the roadway.

Those new features will, Mr. O’Neil firmly believes, encourage more people to stop, which is why he is willing to put so much of his own money into the project.

The new terminal will be built where there is currently a row of about 12 parking spots – yet another small incursion of alternate transportation systems into the automobile empire. No one has yet complained about it.

About 50,000 people a year ride around in Mr. O’Neil’s Cinderella Pumpkin Coaches, Central Park-style open carriages, or 12- and 26-person wagons, often in the park but also on nearby downtown streets.

His horses, Belgians and Shires, rest overnight in a barn in the park, next to the stables where the Vancouver police department keeps its horses.

“We have a place in the valley, and every three or four weeks they go away for a long weekend” as a break, he said.

Mr. O’Neil is thrilled with the new terminal, due to open in June, which he says was only realized after 15 years of trying because of constant support from park-board commissioner Constance Barnes and parks general manager Malcolm Bromley.

Mr. Bromley guaranteed him 25 more years in the park, in order to make him confident about investing the money.

Mr. O’Neil didn’t get everything he wanted. His ticket booth is still 130 feet away. The park staff wouldn’t allow a canopy over the terminal or the kind of lanterns he wanted. But he’s willing to bide his time for that.

“The city wants a lot of foreplay before they get into bed with anyone.”


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