Sharing public space

On BC Transit and beyond.

BC Transit in Victoria is currently seeking feedback on a proposal to allow larger sized dogs on buses. Currently, BC Transit policy allows small pets on the bus, but only if they are in handheld carriers. This means that anyone with a larger sized dog must be able to afford a taxi or own a car if they need to take their dog to the vet. If you’d like to share your thoughts about this with BC Transit, you can find the survey here . The survey deadline is Sunday, November 9th.

I recently had a conversation with someone about this BC Transit survey. I was surprised by the strength of their opposition to dogs on buses. The concerns raised in the exchange were about people with serious allergies and people who are scared of dogs. These are both important issues that we must think seriously about. I also think we need to take seriously the needs, and interests, of people with pets who want, or need, to take a bus.

This is an important case study in how to share space in our culture. Through examples like this, we can start to make more visible what is normal and whose needs and interests are in the centre.

I’m curious to hear more about what people with significant dog allergies (or fears) would need to be able to share a bus with a dog. What if the dogs were only allowed at the back or front of the bus? What if they were only allowed at certain times or if they were required to wear muzzles? Both Toronto and Calgary have successfully found ways to share transit space using these strategies. We could also empower bus drivers to facilitate this sharing of space rather than create blanket policies that take away the creative intelligence of the people involved.

Having a pet is often framed as a privilege. Something that you only do if you can afford it. However, I know a lot of people who are living on very low incomes, well below the poverty line, whose pets are an integral part of their mental health and well-being.

black dog eating an ice cream cone with people around

Peggy McIntosh, in her classic essay on white privilege, distinguishes between positive advantages which everyone could have if we created a more just society and negative advantages which rely on the oppression of some in order for others to have advantages. I think that this distinction can help us challenge the notion that having a pet is a privilege and so people with pets are not entitled to be able to use public transit. Recognizing all of the needs in this situation as legitimate can help us think more creatively about how to share space on the bus. If pets are beneficial, even just to some people, then how can we make having pets something that everyone could potentially have, rather than something that people can only have if they can also afford to have a car or pay for a taxi to take them to the vet? I think shifting our framework to recognize all needs as deserving of serious consideration and to recognize that public spaces have a responsibility to be accessible to everyone, moves us closer towards creating a just society.

It seems likely that the small number of people with this kind of significant allergy will find a way to share the space on a bus with what is actually likely to be a fairly small number of dogs on buses.

The way forward is to actually engage in creative discussions about possible strategies without dismissing other perspectives as unimportant. This can be challenging as we usually find our own needs most compelling. However, over many years of working with very diverse groups of people, I have seen many examples of people stepping outside of their own experiences to try to understand the needs of others.

I trust our creative and empathic capacities to find ways to share space that work for all of us, on buses and elsewhere.