In Indiana, buggy license fees shoot up for Allen County Amish

Amish Buggy

Photo by Franco Felini

→ Buggy license fees shoot up | The Journal Gazette

This article deals with Amish living in Allen County Indiana. However, the issue in question is one that effects the Amish of the Deitscherei  (PA Dutch Country) as well.

The traditional horse and buggy can do a lot of damage to modern roads, and the annual license fees in Allen County, IN are going up to reflect the increased cost of maintenance. In this case the fee went from $30 to $55, prompting the local Amish community to express their concern over the increase to the county commissioners. They responded by noting that the annual buggy licences generated $30,000 per year and “that money is meant to help offset the estimated $500,000 in damage they cause.” Additionally, this was the first time the fee had been raised since 1997.

The obvious question arising from the quote is: Does the estimated $500,000 cost to repair represent one year’s worth of damage, or is this the accumulated amount of cost since the last fee hike? If it is the total for the 18 years then the $30,000 dollar per year fee would have covered the $28,000 per year maintenance cost – if the the thirty thousand was being generated by the $30 fee, which I’m assuming. If the buggies are doing a half a million dollars per year in damage to local roads then the Amish are, at least in theory, getting a very good deal.

It’s encouraging to see that as part of the deal the county will be working with the Amish to figure out ways to lessen the damage done by buggies. But any such changes will have to be debated within the Amish community and judged to be acceptable to them on religious grounds. Such a debate was undertaken in the 1970s by Old Order Mennonites of the Groffdale Conference, some of whom started to use rubber on farm machinery to improve performance and limit damage to public roads. A compromise on the question of rubber use was not reached until 1999.

Hard rubber or pneumatic tires are allowed on bicycles and machinery not requiring a driver, such as walk-behind equipment and wagons. Use of steel wheels ensures tractors are not used as a substitute for automobiles to run errands or to make more extensive trips than are convenient with horse-drawn carriages. The steel wheel rule prevents large agricultural operations, reinforcing an emphasis on small farms that provide manual labor for all of the family members.

The use of buggies represents a conscious effort on their part to separate themselves from the modern world and any changes to the buggy could not be so dramatic as to threaten the overall health of their religious community. For example, in Lancaster County some of the Amish install battery operated running lights and turn signals on their buggies to help reduce the chance of accidents with cars. Such a change is allowed for the sake of safety. However there is little improvement in safety to be gained from say, adding a rubber surface the buggies wheel in order to reduce road damage.

The other question that springs to mind is a historical one: The Amish first settled in Allen County, Indiana around 1852, 70 years before modern macadam roads began to be constructed. Why should the Amish be expected to pay for damage to a type of road they did not want, ask for or need. Macadam roads benefit cars and trucks, not buggies – and certainly not horses. This is not to say that the Amish do not benefit at all from modern roads – but their way of life does not, in any way depend on the construction and maintenance of expensive macadam roads. The same cannot be said of the larger, modern communities they live among. In order to prove my point, imagine that all of the modern, macadam roads in Allen County one day suddenly reverted to dirt. What population would be more dramatically affected: the Amish in their horse drawn buggies…or everyone else?

This is an interesting question to examine, but let’s not get to carried away with an over simplification of the matter. Most Amish, while certainly not dependent on many of the “English” lifestyle innovations for survival (or quality of life for that matter), do benefit on many levels from interaction with the larger world. The Amish of Allen County have an economy where full time farming – the Amish ideal – has almost completely died out . As a result, their livelihoods are much more dependent on things like well maintained, tax payer funded modern roads. 

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