Friday, January 19, 2018

Should pets be allowed on public transport?

Dogs like Chiana would get out and about more if they could travel (with their owners) on public transport.
If you could travel with your pet on public transport, would you consider giving up your car? According to a study by Jennifer Kent and Corinne Mulley, a number of Sydney-dwelling dog owners would consider relinquishing their private vehicle if they were able to travel with their pets on public transport.

The study, published in Transportation Research Part A, included a survey of 1257 Sydney-based dog owners. It confirmed that because dogs are prohibited on most forms of public transport in Sydney (they can be transported on a bus, if contained, and at the discretion of the driver), dog owners have no alternative but to drive on non-walkable, dog-related trips.

That includes trips to dog walking spaces, dog-friendly cafes and bars, and visiting family and friends, as well as trips to the vet.

The Annandale Hotel is one pub advertising its canine-friendly facilities.
I must admit that I don’t frequently peruse the pages of Transportation Research Part A, but this paper is hard to put down. There is an acknowledged need in Sydney, like other cities, to reduce traffic and its associated environmental costs. At the same time, urban planners seek to promote the well-being of citizens and engagement with recreational spaces. Reducing people’s dependence on cars – by providing excellent public transport – is one way to do this. But we also need to ensure that public transport is accessible and meets people’s needs. Its a human and animal welfare issue.

The authors found that each household made an average of 3.8 dog-related trips by car each week. Considering there are 4.9 people living in Sydney, and 1.6 million households, 39 per cent which comprise at least one canine, that is a possible 2.4 million dog related trips – by car – each week. 

This includes trips to the vet, 86 per cent of which are by car. Concerningly, 13.9 per cent of dog owners surveyed said that lack of transport had prevented them from taking their dog to the vet in the last 12 months.

This certainly resonates with my experience. We have a number of clients who, living in the city, don’t have space for a car. Some rely on car-share services to get to the vet, but car-share services only provide a certain number of pet-friendly cars – and these are often booked.

Allowing pets on public transport would benefit those animals because it would enable them to accompany owners on trips, and make vet visits they may otherwise not be able to make (or not be able to make without incurring additional expenses). It would benefit owners because it would allow them to enjoy more time outside of their home with their dogs (and for most dogs, that’s good for their mental health).

Indeed, the study found that if pets were allowed on public transport, more than 55 per cent of dog owners would attend additional activities with their dog – and 20 per cent would consider not having a car.

This would benefit the non-pet owning public (and the environment) by reducing the number of dog-related private car trips per week.

Of course, there would need to be some rules and guidelines to ensure the safety and well-being of humans and animals. The authors examined policies of countries and cities where pets are allowed on public transport. Strategies included confining pets to one area of a bus or train carriage, restrictions around travelling during peak periods, and rules about carrying dogs in lifts and on escalators. Most placed limits on dog behaviour by requesting that dogs be accompanied at all times and be on a lead, and/or in control of an owner.

You can read more about the study here, or if you have access download it via Science Direct here.

Where have I been?

Happy New Year! As I mentioned last year, I’m posting less frequently as I am working on a long-term animal welfare project which has necessitated some serious reclaiming of my time. 

One of the biggest things to happen last year was publication of #thevetcookbook, a project put together by Deepa Gopinath, Jenna Moss Davis, Asti May and myself, and produced by the Centre for Veterinary Education. I will post about this further, but there are some (limited) copies available through the Centre for Veterinary Education. You will need to create a profile and login to order a copy online, or you can phone them directly.

I will continue to post on matters related to the veterinary profession and animal welfare from time to time, and I appreciate all of the emails and suggestions.