Friday, 29 February 2008

To the Feds we Go

Our NSW and Federal Transport Ministers and the NSW Police force at Marrickville.

Pema and I have finally made it home from Sydney to the Central Coast via public transport - the same way we got back into the city for a day of media interviews and filming after the Daily Telegraph article. We had to spend another unplanned night in the city because the transit police were waiting for us at Central Station. "We know who you are", they wrenched my phone out of my hand. I'd had enough, I could see they were not going to let me get on my train, so I was going to leave. Nope, they wouldn't let me leave, wouldn't let me get my train, they were just being obstructionists - and ruff. They asked if Pema was a registered assistance dog. All Barking Mad members know the answer to that one: 'yes, of course, and she has $10 million public liability insurance".

They demanded ID and didn't like it when I asked why if they knew who I was. I am also not obliged to give them ID unless they put me under arrest, but they didn't look happy when I quoted my rights. And these uniformed folks obviously didn't know the Disability Discrimination Act or the difference between a companion dog, an assistance animal and NSW RailCorp unique definition of a 'Therapy Dog'.

Still, winners are grinner's, and we finally got the State Transit to admit what we have known and acted on for nearly a year. We gave Minister Watkins many opportunities to help us end the harassment we were receiving from uninformed bus drivers and even bus Depot Managers. Why did I have to be rolled by the police, charged with resisting arrest (get the irony? That was the charge - so what charge was I resisting?) before he and State Transit admitted their own policy. I can happily say "I told you so" but that does not accomplish our objective. I have no need to stay in the past.
  • We have the admission we wanted, Barking Mad and our faithful members have been vindicated.
  • We have a strategy that is aligned with the NSW State Plan.
  • We have some very pissed off members who are taking up the issue of the police treatment of me (that is not Barking Mad's issue).
  • We have good federal and state (NSW & Queensland) support for many of our policies and we need to build on that.
  • Barking Mad members will continue to use public transport when appropriate and respect those with opposing opinions or fear.
  • But more than that, we will enjoy public transport more than anyone because we ALL experience conversation and people chatting to our dogs while we travel - and we love that sense of community!

What we ask now of Minister Watkins is to assist us in getting a national pets on public transport strategy. We ask him to work with his Federal counterpart (Minister Albanese in the top photo) for our draft policy which is based on the existing pets on public transport policy in London:


  1. You can bring an assistance dog with you without charge. You can also take with you without charge any other dog or inoffensive animal, unless there is a good reason for us to refuse it (such as if the animal seems dangerous or is likely to upset other customers).
  2. You must keep it under control on a lead or in a suitable container, and must not allow it on a seat. Staff are not allowed to take charge of any animal.
  3. If you bring an animal with you, for safety reasons you must carry it on moving escalators or through automatic ticket gates. If you have an assistance dog, you must ask a member of staff to open the manual gate to allow you to enter or leave a station with automatic gates. If there is a moving escalator and no staircase or lift, a member of our staff will stop the escalator to allow your dog to travel on it when it is safe to do so (generally outside the rush hours and when the station is not busy).

In practice, this proposed change comes down to "behave and be responsible”. Both Ministers Watkins and Albanese have excellent reputations for being honest 'nice' guys. Let's hope we can work together with them and the relevant environment, health (ageing) and community ministers to bring more common sense (scents?) to the important public amenity that is transport.