Would you ride Amtrak more often if your cat or small dog could go with you? Would the prospect of being able to have your furry companion with you on a trip by train entice you to leave your car at home?
Congressman Jeff Denam of California hopes these questions will be increasingly answered in the affirmative as he explores legislation to make it possible for pets to travel on trains with their humans, according to ABC News.
Denham (R-Culver City) used to take Lily, his friendly 15-pound French bulldog, with him on cross-country flights. Then it occurred to him that a train could significantly cut the cost of travel. But when he tried to take Lily on Amtrak, he was told that only service dogs were allowed.
Rep. Denham, who chairs the House subcommittee that oversees the agencies that regulate the railroad industry, believes pet owners should be allowed to bring their small pets in carriers on trains.
He also believed not having to leave a beloved small furry companion behind would encourage people to travel by train and leave their vehicles in their garages, thus cutting congestion on overcrowded highways.
Denham also felt this might bring a new revenue stream to this sector of public transportation and help financially revive and sustain a service that has become almost totally dependent upon taxpayers.
Associated Press reports that Rep. Denham persuaded Amtrak to conduct a test run for pets along two routes in Illinois. The results were that about 145 passengers took trips with their pets last year and the participation increased gradually as the program was in place and passengers became aware of it.
Denham has now filed a bill that would require Amtrak to come up with a pet policy for passengers traveling less than 750 miles, he told the Associated Press. Twenty-three lawmakers have signed onto the legislation, from conservative California Republicans like Tom McClintock to liberal Democrats like Mike Honda, also from California, Denham said.
Although this pet proposal could be done legislatively, Amtrak could also just change its policy on its own. Officials have indicated strong support, the AP reports, but are still in the monitoring stage. They are considering the practicalities of how long a pet can travel without a potty break and other aspects that need careful planning in order to provide this new service without alienating other customers.
Under the Illinois pilot program, those wishing to take pets on the train with them must make advanced reservations and pay a $25 surcharge. Only animals weighing 20 pounds or less can board and they must be in their carriers at all times. The pets and their owners also are relegated to a particular train car and customers have to arrive at least 30 minutes before departure so they can sign a release agreement. Amtrak reserves the right to remove from the train any pet that smells bad or is disruptive.
Various lobbying groups affiliated with pet owners and pet businesses are also weighing in, AP notes.
"Millions of American families have beloved pets, and allowing them to travel by train will support the human-animal bond," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
Would you travel on Amtrak or take the train more often than you do, if you could bring along your small pet?