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Transit commission turns down leashed dogs on buses

“I know a lot of people who are absolutely terrified of dogs. I know people that are also allergic and you can’t mitigate that completely. … I realize there are people who ride our system that would now be excluded from our system.”
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A Roam transit electric bus in Banff on Tuesday (June 21). JUNGMIN HAM RMO PHOTO

BOW VALLEY – Dogs wanting to travel the Bow Valley will need to pick up a copy of the driver’s licence handbook and head to driver’s school.

At a meeting Wednesday (March 8), the Bow Valley Regional Transit Services Commission board voted to take a pass on allowing leashed dogs on Roam buses.

While a public survey showed significant support for canines on public transit, most commission members expressed concerns that riders who are afraid of dogs may not want to take the bus, irresponsible owners not controlling their dogs, four-legged friends taking human spots on overcrowded buses and maintaining cleanliness.

Grant Canning, a Banff representative on the commission, said the ultimate goal for Roam is “to move people, not dogs” and he was worried about capacity issues crippling some routes last summer – especially in Banff – where riders were turned away due to no space being available.

“I can understand the desire to have the amenity,” he said. “However, I struggle with the safety aspect of this and from my own experience trusting people is one thing, trusting animals could be different. … Dogs are not as manageable as we like to think they are and I think that does bring up potential safety issues.”

Alex Parkinson, an I.D. No. 9 representative, called a decision on this topic a “no-win situation”, particularly with overcrowding issues and the risk of having to take a bus off the road if it needed cleaning.

“I think our primary focus should be transporting people rather than trying to accommodate different rules and regulations," she said. "We’re putting a lot of faith in owners and I don’t agree all the owners have that kind of level of understanding when it comes to their pets."

Of the 1,590 responses to a survey, 1,333 people (71.26 per cent) voiced support for allowing leashed dogs on buses at all times. An additional 223 people (14.03 per cent) were OK with leashed dogs riding at specific times and the remaining 234 people (14.72 per cent) said they were against leashed dogs on buses.

More than half of Roam drivers – 63 per cent – were OK with leashed dogs on buses and the remaining drivers were opposed. Parks Canada allows dogs in the national parks – where the majority of Roam routes run – but only if they are on a leash.

Data shows that Routes No. 1, 2 and 3 had capacity issues on several days, leading to drivers turning away passengers when there was no room. Routes No. 4, 5 and 6 also had days with overloads, but not as significant as the other three.

Of the 104 Canadian Urban Transit Association members, 94 per cent don't allow uncaged leashed dogs on buses. Calgary, Durham Region, Mississauga and Oakville allow leashed dogs. Montreal allows leashed dogs on metro service and Toronto does during off-peak hours.

The lone vote of support came from Canmore representative Tanya Foubert, who put forward a motion to allow leashed dogs for buses 30 minutes or less during non-peak times and to have it begin in the fall, following the busy summer months.

She pointed to the commission's strategic goal to reduce the number of vehicles on the road, which had many survey respondents say they would use vehicles less. She also said a pilot would allow Roam to learn if it was viable or not moving forward.

“As I look at the numbers in our survey, there is a tradeoff for those who are going to be uncomfortable with dogs on the bus to those who would like to access this level of service," she said.

"The information in front of me leads me to believe this will be a net positive in terms of ridership and we will achieve a greater number of vehicles off the road as a result,” she said, adding strollers, bikes and winter sports equipment also take up spots for riders.

Commission Chair Joanna McCallum, a longtime Canmore representative on the board, said this topic has been likely the most contentious issue discussed at the transit commission.

She said she attempted to find a way to “split the baby in two”, but issues such as Roam not having the same frequency as transit services that allow leashed dogs and some riders being afraid of dogs were areas of concern.

McCallum said small dogs are allowed on Roam buses if they’re in a cage resting on a person’s lap.

“I know a lot of people who are absolutely terrified of dogs. I know people that are also allergic and you can’t mitigate that completely. … I realize there are people who ride our system that would now be excluded from our system,” she said.

The Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) provided a statement to Roam staff that raised concerns for guide dogs and handlers since it may lead to a leashed dog distracting a guide dog.

“Allowing pets on transit would create unnecessary barriers for already vulnerable populations and make the transit system less safe and welcoming,” said CNIB in its recommendation to Roam.

Roam has grown quickly in recent years, particularly as Banff, Canmore and Lake Louise have prioritized public transit as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address affordability issues faced by residents in providing free or low-cost transit.

The transit service is in the process of hiring more than 30 staff for the upcoming summer, purchasing or receiving more buses and has made the decision to have staff accommodation to address staffing concerns of finding housing.

“The priority, for me is that every single person that wants to get on a bus right now should be able to and they can’t,” said I.D. No. 9 representative Dave Schebek. “We have to solve that problem first or at least minimize or mitigate it.”