Buses have gone to the dogs in Seattle

A few weeks ago, I rode a crowded bus toward downtown Seattle during the morning rush hour, sitting in the middle of the very back row.  The bus halted at a stop, and the front door opened. I couldn’t see anything, but heard plenty–a snarling dog, apparently brought on the bus by a patron. The dog, which I couldn’t see, was barking at something, perhaps a person but maybe even another dog. Eventually, the clamor subsided, and the bus resumed its trip.

Hardly anyone on the bus besides me looked up. That’s how common dogs are on Seattle mass transit.

A recent local TV news clip about one Seattle dog that sometimes rides by itself to a dog park went viral (click on image above). Now, even by Seattle standards, that’s unusual. But I still think the story got more notice elsewhere in the world than here, where dogs everywhere are far more of a way of life.

In dog-loving Seattle, there are three dogs for every two children (the national average is about one for one). Three years ago, I wrote about this ratio imbalance, suggesting that it might be proof of the Seattle Freeze, the then- but no longer-disputed notion that Seattleites are unfriendly to newcomers. I opined the Seattle Freeze might be the product of a fear of rejection, which dog owners don’t get from their dogs. Ergo, a lot of dogs.

In most every place I lived before becoming New To Seattle, dogs were prohibited from mass transit unless needed by a patron for a disability or otherwise met the definition of a service dog. That is not the case here.

In fact, the official regulations of King County Metro Transit, which operates most of the buses in Seattle, actually allow ordinary, non-service dogs on the bus. Here verbatim are the pertinent rules:

  • “Drivers may refuse to transport a person and their dog if they already have another dog onboard.”
  • “Drivers may refuse to transport a dog if it is creating a hazard or disturbance.”
  • “Drivers may request the removal of a dog from the coach if it creates a hazard or disturbance.”
  • “All dogs that are not service animals must be on leash.”
  • “Dogs are not allowed to occupy seats; they must remain either on the floor or sit on their owners lap.”
  • “Small dogs who remain on their owner’s lap ride for free. All other dogs pay the base fare (or reduced fare) paid by the customer accompanying the dog. No zone fare is charged and transfers are to be issued upon request.”

From what I have observed, the spirit of these rules aren’t followed all that strictly. And I’m not just referring to the video of the dog on a seat without an owner or leash, or the ruckus I heard on the bus. I’ve seen numerous dogs without service garb come on buses without a fare being paid. The one-dog-to-a-bus suggestion also seems to get short shrift. I’ve been on buses with as many as three.

To me, the last rule is a hoot, and not just because a fare must be paid for a non-service dog standing by themselves, while a dog-in-arms is treated to a free ride like a babe-in-arms. It’s the wording, referring to “the customer accompanying the dog” rather than the other way around.

Seattle, for sure.

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