Charleston entrepreneur introduces an “e-carriage” to the world.
BY DAN KROSSE
ROME, BARCELONA, PHILADELPHIA, CHICAGO, NEW YORK, NEW ORLEANS — CITIES AROUND THE GLOBE ARE LINING UP TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE E-CARRIAGE, BUILT RIGHT HERE IN CHARLESTON. BUT WHY DOES THE HOLY CITY APPEAR TO BE GIVING THE VENTURE THE COLD SHOULDER?
“The goal is to work with the city of Charleston in any way possible to make this an operating tour company and vehicle. But like anything else that’s new and different, you kind of have to go through a process of trying to make that happen and not kicking the hornet’s nest,” said e-carriage inventor Kyle Kelly.
The “hornet’s nest” Kelly is referring to is the controversy surrounding Charleston’s multi-million-dollar horse carriage tour industry. Despite continued assurances from carriage industry leaders, many people continue to question whether the industry is humane. Among the concerns: heat, multiple horse-related incidents, sanitation, congested city streets and the stress of pulling the carriages. Charleston Animal Society and the City’s Livability and Tourism Department routinely field calls about the topic, especially during the heat of the summer.
Kelly says hearing viewpoints from both sides inspired a “light bulb” moment where he decided to build an e-carriage. With five more e-carriages in production, he believes there is room for his e-carriage to fit into the Charleston equation as humane, eco-tourism. “There are tourists who come to Charleston, and they don’t want to do a horse-drawn carriage for their personal reasons and beliefs, and I respect that,” Kelly explained. “So, their other option is a walking tour and in the 95-to-100-degree heat of Charleston, a lot of people don’t or physically can’t do a walking tour. So, what’s nice with the e-carriage is, it’s going to grab that basket of people in the middle that are looking for an alternative tour option.”
A carriage company in New Orleans is one of the entities to reach out to Kelly. New Orleans also has a carriage tour industry that has received its own amount of criticism.
WHAT IS THE E-CARRIAGE LIKE?
The e-carriage looks like it rolled out of an era between 1875 and 1905. Large-spoked wheels hold up a black, lacquered, carriage frame that can hold five rows of passengers. The buttoned-leather seats are covered with a carriage top, complete with a surrey fringe. The only thing missing is a horse.
The vintage look disguises the tech that drives the carriage – state-of-the-art lithium batteries that are tucked under the floorboards. Riders will also notice power steering, electric lanterns, and running lights.
Kelly is passionate about making Charleston the first city to launch the e-carriage, because he believes it will be another historic first for the Holy City. “The idea was grown here. It was built here. I’ve been here for 15 years. My goal is to be the Henry Ford of the industry,” Kelly said.
HITTING THE ROAD?
When will people see the e-carriage hit the road? There are still some hurdles to clear before that can happen. Kelly is currently in discussions with state officials on how to classify the e-carriage as a vehicle. At the same time, he continues to introduce the idea to city council and other Charleston officials who hold the keys to whether the e-carriage will be allowed to show the city to visitors.
Kelly emphasizes that the e-carriage is silent, which will appeal to neighborhood residents and the vehicle doesn’t pollute like tour buses, which is great for the environment. He says, all he wants is a fair shot at getting the e-carriage out on the streets.
“I think at the end of the day, that’s called consumerism. It’s giving people the option right now, when you know, your choices are very limited,” Kelly said. “The e-carriage is green, it’s environmentally friendly, it’s as quiet as a whisper and it’s humane. I mean, it checks all the boxes for it to exist.”
CHARLESTON ANIMAL SOCIETY’S POSITION ON THE CARRIAGE INDUSTRY
Charleston Animal Society is not opposed to working animals, as long as the conditions they work in are humane. Charleston Animal Society believes the public deserves an independent, scientific, peer-reviewed, prospective study of the horses and mules that work in Charleston’s stressful urban environment to provide a framework for humane working conditions. The Animal Society believes the current working conditions are the harshest in the country and laws are routinely violated and unenforced.