On Israeli buses, size matters

A Transportation Ministry law raises the hackles of dog owners.

A dog on a bus (illustrative) (photo credit: REUTERS)
A dog on a bus (illustrative)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Can you take your dog on the bus? The answer is maybe or maybe not. It depends on the mood of the driver, the size of the dog and when the promised re-legislation takes effect.
In short, it’s a mess! Until last year, the Transportation Ministry permitted dogs of all shapes and sizes to be taken on buses, provided that the person traveling with them bought them a ticket (full price within the city and half price with a minimum price of NIS 10 on intercity journeys) and that the dogs wore a muzzle. The system seemed to work well, and although there were some people who didn’t like or were afraid of dogs, the muzzles ensured that they posed no threat.
As someone who often used to travel with my pet Labrador mix on the bus, I never had any problems with her. She was always very friendly to everyone around her and behaved impeccably. The same cannot always be said of certain human passengers. Any regular traveler on Israeli buses can tell you that disturbances often include people listening to loud music, talking on their cellphones at the top of their voice or putting their feet on the seats.
Somewhere around the middle of last year, comments began to circulate on Facebook that dogs were no longer allowed on buses. This rumor was proven to be true when an article by Dana Yarktzy appeared in Walla at the end of May, stating that the Transportation Ministry was no longer permitting large dogs on buses. However, a look at the ministry’s guidelines regarding taking animals on buses stated that it was permissible to take dogs of all sizes on buses.
This caused no end of problems for dog owners because as far as they knew they were still allowed to take their dogs on the bus. And many bus companies were unaware of the change in the law, so they continued to allow dogs on buses.
At first I thought it was a change in Egged’s policy, as the bus company’s website seemed to be the only transportation website that alluded to this prohibition. The website stated that only small dogs that could be held in one’s arms or sit on one’s knees would be allowed on buses. This was not a helpful distinction, as my dog used to lie across my knees when I was on the bus and weighs 30 kilos, which by no means fits the description of a small dog.
However, upon further clarification, it transpired that the ministry had changed its policy regarding allowing big dogs on buses without bothering to update its website or advising the majority of bus companies or the public. Not only did this change inconvenience large numbers of dog owners, but it was also penalized owners of large dogs while still allowing small dogs on buses.
There is no logical reason why large dogs should not be allowed on buses when small dogs are.
The majority of veterinarians will tell you that small dogs are far more likely to bite than large dogs, as they feel more threatened.
A dog does not take up any more space than a shopping trolley, baby carriage, suitcase or wheelchair, so there is as much room for a dog on the bus as there is for any of these.
Appalled by this change to an already overly stringent law (in the UK, dogs are allowed on public transport without a muzzle and without a ticket), I decided to start a petition to protest this. I advertised the petition on Facebook and was soon contacted by other incensed dog owners who wanted to help. One of them started a group on Facebook called Klavim Gdolim Be’autobusim (large dogs on buses), where we advertised the petition.
Within two months, we had more than 4,000 signatures. The outrage of owners of large dogs in Israel had obviously reached the Transportation Ministry. At the beginning of July, Transport Minister Israel Katz announced that he intended to change the clause in the regulations prohibiting taking large dogs on buses and that “freedom of movement has been restored to people.” Another article was published in Walla by Yarktzy welcoming these changes.
In spite of these declarations, it appeared that the delight of the dog owners was premature.
While some people have reported being allowed to take their dogs on buses, the ministry website still states that it is prohibited to take large dogs on buses, which creates another problem.
Although some bus drivers might allow large dogs on buses, they cannot be forced to do so, given that the website still cites it as forbidden. Therefore, dog owners are placed in a kind of limbo. One bus driver might allow the dog on the bus but the next one might not, thereby creating a problem of getting to one’s final destination with the dog. While it is not overly problematic if one is traveling in the same city, if one has traveled to another city with a dog, there is the risk of not being able to get home with one’s pet. This is an untenable situation, given that Katz announced that he would rescind the law.
Several people have contacted the ministry through its Facebook page to protest the lack of consistency between their words and their actions and to attempt to find out why no change had been made. A ministry employee responded to all the messages as follows: “I am aware that the website has not been updated yet. This is because the legal department is working on formulating the new legislation to allow dogs of any size on buses. As you are aware, the Knesset is now in recess and, according to our estimates, after the Jewish holidays, with the start of the next plenum, this legislation will pass and come into force.”
That was the ministry’s response in August. Yet a month earlier, the minister had announced that the law would be changed, making it sound like a fait accompli. He was obviously aware that nothing would be implemented before the summer recess, so why did he make such an announcement before the recess? This only created false hope, and the lack of consistency has left dog owners feeling confused, restricted and somewhat cheated. Months have passed since the start of the current plenum, and despite repeated appeals by myself and others, we have received no answer or even acknowledgment, and the Transportation Ministry section on animals remains unchanged.
I have not attempted to take my dog on a bus since then, as I can’t take the risk that I won’t be able to get back with her. Gone are the pleasurable days of our taking the bus to the dog beach in Tel Aviv. An irrational change in already overly stringent laws and a failure by the minister to keep his promise have robbed me and many others of such simple pleasures and rights.
Even though the laws are far more draconian here than in my native London, I accepted that I had to put a muzzle on my dog (much to her chagrin) and buy a ticket for her as a condition for being allowed to travel with her on public transport, which is, after all, there to serve the public. However, this discrimination toward large dogs and, even worse, empty promises to rescind the law are unacceptable and must be challenged.
Ministers should not be allowed to get away with making empty promises to their constituents for whom they are supposed to be working.
To sign the petition (in Hebrew): www.atzuma.co.il/allowdogsoneggedbus