After the US Department of Justice issued new federal guidelines to the Americans With Disabilities Act narrowing the definition of what animals can be called “service animals,” many wondered how those changes might be reflected in animal-friendly San Francisco. One thing that won’t be changing, at least for now, however, are Muni’s rules and regulations regarding animals on their vehicles.
On March 15, the (DOJ) changed their ruling on what animals can be allowed where, specifying that “service animals,” which are traditionally allowed anywhere the human they’re serving is allowed, can only be dogs or housebroken miniature horses.
In addition, “service animals” are now defined as those that are “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.” Animals that simply provide “emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship” are not considered service animals under the new regulations.
These new guidelines, which went into effect on April 1, aren’t binding to states, municipalities and other agencies, which are free to adopt the policy or to make their own, the AP reports.
That’s why it was especially surprising to see KRON4’s Stanley Roberts reporting (as seen in the video above) that “Muni tells me, effective immediately, they will follow the new federal ADA guidelines, and only certified service dogs will be allowed to ride Muni.”
What, no miniature horses? WTF MUNI FAIL. No, I’m kidding.
The real reason this gave me pause was that this is a significant change to Muni policy, which presently allows all sorts of non-service animals.
See for yourself: SFMTA policy presently says that non-service animals (we’ll call them “pets”) are allowed to ride Muni any time but weekdays 5-9 a.m. and 3-7 p.m.
There are some stipulations — pet dogs must be muzzled and leashed, and only one per vehicle’s allowed. Other pets and non-service animals must be carried in small closed containers, and for every pet, a fare equal to the owner’s must be paid. (Rules for service animals differ, here they are.)
Is Muni using this federal decision to ban all animals, unless they are service dogs, from their vehicles? According to SF MTA spokesperson Paul Rose, they thought they were going to, but now, we’ll “have to wait and see.”
At the time of Roberts’ report, Rose says, the SF MTA believed that they’d be making a policy change prohibiting animals on Muni.
However, the MTA has since discovered that since the Department of Transportation has yet to issue any changes as a result of the DOJ ruling, Muni won’t be changing any of its policies for now.
Does that mean Muni might initiate a ban on all animals but service dogs, if the DOT issues changes to the regulations involving service animals?
Rose couldn’t answer that question, just repeating that it’s all dependent on what the Department of Transportation says.
Are the MTA’s present rules on pets on Muni set by the DOT? I asked Rose. He didn’t know, and is checking into this (I’ll update when he lets me know).
Anyone who regularly rides Muni raised their eyes skeptically around the middle of this story, because, at least anecdotally, most rules on things like muzzling dogs or paying fares for them seem to be rarely followed (or enforced). Perhaps because of that, many feel that the bus is no place for a pet, and say that they’d applaud the change.
Jim Haselbeck, who was waiting for the N Judah at 47th and Judah this morning, is one such person. “I don’t get these people who have to take their dogs everywhere,” he said.
“I’ve seen dogs on the bus that look scared, not like they’re having a fun adventure. And scared dogs bite.”
However, for some, being able to take a pet on Muni is necessary — many pet owners have relied on Muni to get to vet appointments, for example. Will they need to resort to cabs or a car sharing service to get where they need to go?
That’s all still unclear, and Rose is unwilling to speculate. “At this point everything stays the same,” he told me again. “(Muni) won’t change a thing. We’ll see what happens with the Department of Transportation.”