Six electric carriages began offering tours of Mérida, Yucatán, last Friday, but business started slowly for the drivers of the horse-free, environmentally-friendly vehicles.
Mérida Mayor Renán Barrera and Yucatán Governor Mauricio Vila were on hand for the official launch of the calesas eléctricas, which took place at the entrance to Paseo de Montejo, the stately avenue that connects Mérida’s historic center to northern neighborhoods of the state capital.
The electric buggies, which arrived from China in May, are operating alongside horse-drawn carriages, which have been showing tourists the sights of Mérida for years. Barrera told reporters that environmentally-friendly electric carriages would have been unimaginable 30 years ago.
“This new tourism option promotes innovation and at the same time conserves traditions [while] adapting to new times,” the mayor said.
The Mérida government purchased the six electric carriages and has offered loans to operators to help them buy them. The loans cover 41% of the total cost because the other 59% is covered by municipal authorities. Drivers have been given training on how to operate the electric vehicles.
It remains to be seen whether they will be popular among tourists, or whether visitors to la ciudad blanca (the white city) will prefer to admire sights such as las casas gemelas (the twin houses) and el Monumento a la Patria (Monument to the Homeland) from a traditional horse-drawn buggy.
The day after the new carriages began operating, there was scant interest in riding in them, the newspaper Por Esto! reported. It said that only one trip was completed between the hours of 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday.
“People aren’t used to them yet,” said Manuel Torres Velasco, a driver who hoped that business would pick up on Saturday night.
Only two of the six electric carriages operated during the daytime on Saturday, but Torres predicted that more would come out in the evening, when Mérida’s oppressive heat starts to lose its bite.
During the day, tourists chose to ride in the traditional horse-drawn carriages over the electric ones, Por Esto! reported.
“People have come to ask [about tours], but no one has decided to get in yet,” said Torres, whose family also has two horse-drawn buggies. “We’re going to continue trying the electric ones to see how the response is, but if [demand] stays low, we’ll combine [the use of the electric carriages] with the traditional ones,” he said.
The price of a tour in the new electric buggies is the same as the horse-drawn ones – 400 pesos, or about US $20. Among the potential customers for the former are people who believe that the use of horses to pull carriages is cruel. Tourists can board an electric buggy at the Plaza Grande – Mérida’s central square – or on Paseo de Montejo.