Snakes on a train? OC Transpo risks becoming 'Noah's Ark,' councillor warns

Cats, small dogs — and yes, even snakes — could soon be allowed aboard OC Transpo trains and buses, and at least one city councillor is warning fur will fly when the change takes effect.

Ottawa's transit commission approves new rules allowing 'small pets' aboard trains, buses

Small pets in carriers that can fit on a passenger's lap could soon be allowed on OC Transpo trains and buses.

Cats, small dogs — and yes, even snakes — could soon be allowed aboard OC Transpo trains and buses, and at least one city councillor is warning fur will fly when the change takes effect.

Ottawa's transit commission passed a motion Wednesday to allow small pets in carriers on all buses and light rail trains, starting this spring. That will extend to the new Confederation Line after the LRT system begins operating later this year.

Currently, only service animals are allowed aboard OC Transpo.

It could be snakes on a train, who knows? Maybe Noah's Ark by the end of the day.- Coun. Tim Tierney

However exactly what constitutes a "small pet" became a point of contention during Wednesday's meeting.

"I have to think it's probably more than just cats and dogs. It could be snakes on a train, who knows? Maybe Noah's Ark by the end of the day," said Beacon Hill-Cyrville Coun. Tim Tierney, who suggested passengers might even start bringing pet skunks along for the ride.

In fact, pet snakes or skunks — however unlikely — could technically be allowed under the new rules, according to Pat Scrimgeour, OC Transpo's director of planning. 

Lap-sized carrier

The only restriction is that an animal has to be small enough to fit inside a lap-sized container so it won't interact with other passengers, Scrimgeour said.

Tierney also questioned how passengers with severe allergies would be affected. But Sabrina Phoenix, an OC Transpo user who addressed the commission, dismissed that concern.

"On a regular day, the amount of pet hair, dander and saliva I have present on my clothing and personal belongings I believe is far more superior than what my animal would produce while in their carrier on board the bus or train," Phoenix said.

The university student told the commission she's on a limited budget and can easily spend $25 on a taxi or Uber ride to take her cat to the nearest vet.

Scrimgeour said in the event a passenger suffers a severe allergic reaction, transit operators are trained to provide medical assistance.

Bikes get green light

The commission went against the recommendations of both city staff and chair Stephen Blais by voting to allow bicycles aboard Confederation Line trains at all times, instead of just during off-peak hours.

"We are trying to encourage, as a city, people to use alternatives to the private vehicle for lots of different trips, and allowing bikes on the LRT without time of day restrictions is going to help residents to do that," said Kitchissippi Ward Coun. Jeff Leiper, who proposed the change.

For each bike, an estimated three or four riders would be displaced on a train that can carry up to about 600 passengers. Each train can accommodate two or three bikes in a designated area at the front of the first car. If there isn't room for another cyclist, they're expected to wait for the next train.

According to the last census, cyclists account for 2.6 per cent of all commuters in Ottawa, whereas transit riders make up nearly 20 per cent.

Transit commission chair Stephen Blais said he's worried about potential conflict between passengers and cyclists if bikes are allowed on the LRT during peak hours. (CBC )

Blais, the lone voice of dissent on the commission, argued OC Transpo passengers are already being asked to accept a great deal of change, and warned one more inconvenience could spark conflict.

"Now we're going to be asking them to give up space to accommodate cyclists who aren't paying any extra to take up three or four spots," Blais said.

"I think ... the risk of something going wrong is very minimal," Leiper argued, pointing out large strollers are also allowed aboard trains and buses.

"I have a tremendous confidence in the residents of Ottawa to be able to organize themselves in such a way that they can get on the train easily and without the conflicts."

Staff will evaluate how many cyclists take the train at various times of day, and report back to council in the spring of 2020.

The report approved by the transit commission also recommends allowing buskers to perform in LRT stations without paying a fee.

The proposal goes to council next Wednesday.