Public transit is no place for pets, says City Council

A six-month pilot project that would allow small pets in crates on OC Transpo busses is facing tough opposition and criticism.

The City of Ottawa’s transit committee voted against the project Wednesday and expressed concern over allergies, public safety, and overcrowding.

Innes Councillor Rainer Bloess says opening the door on the pilot project would open a “Pandora’s box” of issues. Bloess called on his fellow committee members to reject the project.  

“Get back to what transit was meant to be, which is moving people around from point A to point B,” he said. “Leave it at that.”

The pilot project would allow passengers to bring their pets on city busses if they are secured in a small crate or carrier on their owner’s lap. Pets would be allowed to ride the bus only during off-peak hours.

The proposed project will move forward to City Council, but without committee recommendation, said committee coordinator Rosemary Nelson.

River Councillor Maria McRae says the committee was right to reject the pilot project. She says the project could benefit pet owners, but may have negative impacts on other passengers and bus drivers.

OC Transpo driver Michelle Parsons told the transit committee the pilot project would make it harder for her to do her job safely.

“It’s my work environment,” she said. “It’s my desk with a steering wheel.”

Parsons says passengers would argue with her about project details, such as whether or not an animal is safely secured in a carrier. She also said passengers with an animal phobia might scream and distract her from driving.

“I’m a very good driver, but I will react because I’m human,” she said.

Parsons also cites allergies as a major concern for bus drivers and their families.

John McLuckie of the Amalgamated Transit Union says severe allergies might cause problems for some bus drivers and force them to refuse unsafe work.

“Allowing universal access…is going to dramatically increase the number of animals on the bus,” McLuckie said.

But Candice O’Connell, chairperson for the Responsible Dog Owner’s of Canada says many passengers already have allergy-causing pet dander on their clothing. The organization drafted the pilot project and says small, crated animals would not have much of an impact.

According to O’Connell the organization designed the pilot project so that people and animals won’t have to compete for space. She says other major Canadian cities, including Toronto, allow pets on public transit during off-peak hours.

But Alain Mercier, director of transit services, says we have to look at Ottawa’s unique transit system. He says space is a concern, especially in priority seating areas, because more and more people are using the service.

“You can’t compare city to city for everything,” he said.

Capital Councillor Clive Doucet suggested the transit committee further examine the pilot project, but the committee defeated his motion in a 4-4 tie. However, City Council will still consider the pilot project without committee recommendation on Sept. 10, 2008.