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PARIS (Reuters) - French towns worried about fuel prices, pollution and striking transport workers need look no further than the horse.
Horses are a possible alternative for vehicles such as school buses and refuse trucks, say groups eager to pick up on global concerns about eco-friendly transport.
"It's all about sustainable development and bringing some humanity back to today's monotonous, machine-driven jobs," Stephane de Veyrac, from the French National Stud Organisation, said at this week's annual conference of French mayors.
De Veyrac's group says it is the first in France to offer consulting on a wide range of horse-powered vehicles that could also haul bottles and aid street sweeping.
"It is a serious alternative -- horses are already in use in over 70 towns as replacements for gasoline- and diesel-powered service vehicles," said de Veyrac, pointing to the 'Hippoville' prototype parked in the exhibition hall.
With prices starting at 11,562 euros ($17,090), this revamped horse-drawn carriage with disc brakes, signal lamps and removable seating, goes for around the same price as 170 barrels of crude oil.
De Veyrac's group was founded by Louis XIV's Finance Minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert to supply war horses for military campaigns.
Today the group advises French towns interested in horses for city services. One project in northern France involves a pick-up route for glass bottles in the seaside resort of Trouville.
The project is backed by the Regional Horse Promotion Commission, which holds an annual convention in Trouville to promote horses for collecting recyclables, street sweeping, and even transporting children to school.
Olivier Linot, who heads the project, said towns are realizing the beasts are well-adapted for certain work and can reduce job stress and dissatisfaction. He expects at least 30 more communities to start using horses next year.
Studies about cost and overall carbon footprint are still underway but supporters say the animals beat cars and trucks on a number of criteria, especially for transport work requiring frequent stops over short distances, like emptying trash bins.
"It's great for workers and the community to have contact with a living thing," Linot said.
"The civil servants are on strike now, but I tell you if they had their hands on a horse they'd be happier -- I've never seen a driver kiss his truck."
Reporting by Brian Rohan; Editing by Golnar Motevalli