Dr Jennifer Kent with her dog Olive standing at a bus stop

Are we barking mad to restrict dogs from riding public transport?

2 November 2017

A study of Sydney dog owners has found that an overwhelming 95 percent of people are in favour of dogs riding on public transport, with more than half saying they would do more with their hound if they were allowed.

Dr Jennifer Kent with her dog Olive standing at the bus stop.

Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr Jennifer Kent with her dog Olive.

The findings of the 2016 survey of more than 1250 Sydney dog owners, published this week in an international transport research journal, found a high level of dog-related car trips in a city where dog ownership is among the highest in the world.

With almost 39 percent of Sydney households owning a dog, University of Sydney researchers Dr Jennifer Kent and Professor Corinne Mulley wanted to find out how people get around with dogs in a city that restricts them from riding on public transport.

“There is compelling evidence of the links between companion animals and human health. So we wanted to know how much human-dog time is reliant on a car, and what role public transport could play to encourage this bond and activity,” said Dr Jennifer Kent, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of Architecture, Design and Planning.

The survey examined the popular activities that owners do with a dog, and how often these trips – such as a walk; visiting the park or other recreational areas; going to dog training, cafés, bars or the shops; and visiting family, friends or the vet – relied on a car.

Is Australia barking mad to restrict dogs from riding on public transport?

“Based on our research sample of dog owners, we estimate that there are approximately 2.4 million dog-related trips in a private car carried out in Sydney each week," said Dr Kent.

On average, people walk their dog twice or more a week and in one quarter of cases they began the outing by car. More than three quarters of dog owners who go to a recreational area twice or more a week, 45 percent of these people went by car. Of the two thirds of people who go to the dog park three times a week, more than half went by car. Similarly, two thirds of people visiting family or friends once a week, 88 percent did so by car.

The survey also found that, on average, people visit the vet more than three times a year and 86 percent of these trips are made by car. Almost 14 percent of people said that a lack of transport had prevented them from taking their dog to the vet.

When a public transport policy for dogs was posed, 95 percent of Sydney dog owners were in favour. More than 55 percent indicated that they would attend other activities with their dog more often, and 20 percent said they would consider getting by without a car.

“If dogs weren’t restricted from riding on public transport, this high number of car trips for dogs could be reduced. The benefits would extend far beyond fewer cars on the road, by potentially getting people moving more with their dogs and socially connected,” said Dr Kent.

The University of Sydney research also investigated the policies of pets on public transport in 30 cities across Europe and the USA. It found all European cities allowed dogs on public transport, while several cities in the US, North America and Australia did not.

The policies did vary with limits on the area of the train, tram or bus a dog could travel, peak hour travel, and the size of dog, with some cities such as Paris making hounds pass a ‘basket test’ for riding in a carrier or small bag. Most cities charged a fare for dogs at a concession or child price. Zurich went one step further to offer an annual travel card for dogs.

It is interesting that those countries with high rates of dog ownership, such as the USA and Australia, prohibit dogs on public transport. The issue with dogs on public transport is perhaps less about society’s appreciation of dogs, but more about the acceptance of dogs in public spaces.
Dr Jennifer Kent

“Increasingly in Australia we are seeing dogs welcomed in public places apart from the park and other recreational areas. More dogs are accompanying their owners to outdoor bars, cafes and other public spaces, as people are discarding the notion of the dog as a stay-at-home animal,” she added.

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