Every day, service animals perform tasks to help people with disabilities live independently. Customers with service animals have rights and responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Transit operators have responsibilities, too.
Service animals and public transportation
U.S. Department of Transportation ADA regulations define a service animal as “any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability, including, but not limited to:
guiding individuals with impaired vision,
alerting individuals with impaired hearing to intruders or sounds,
providing minimal protection or rescue work,
pulling a wheelchair, or
fetching dropped items” (49 CFR 37.3).
Customers are responsible for maintaining control over their animals and caring for them at all times when riding transit.
Customers are responsible for knowing the best way to board and position their animal on the transit vehicle.
Service animals may not block aisles or exits.
Every operator or employee who serves people with disabilities must be trained to provide non-discriminatory service in an appropriate and respectful way.
Operators must allow all service animals on board.
Operators may not:
Ask for proof of service animal certification or of the customer’s disability.
Require a customer traveling with a service animal to sit in a particular seat on a vehicle.
Charge a cleaning fee for customers who bring their service animals onto a vehicle, unless the animal causes damage.
Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals
Can a customer travel with a service animal on any trip, even if the service animal is clearly not needed when in transport?
Yes. Any customer with a disability can travel with a service animal, even if much of the work of the service animal is done outside the transport situation. The customer determines the need for a service animal, just as she does for a personal care attendant or a mobility aid.
What are the responsibilities of people who travel with service animals?
Customers are responsible for maintaining control over their animals and caring for them at all times. They should be prepared to answer questions from the driver. The handler is responsible for knowing the best way to board and position the animal on the vehicle, particularly if the animal might be required to provide assistance during the transit trip.
A customer is responsible for managing interactions with other passengers when situations arise, such as asking others not to pet, feed, distract or interrupt the service animal while it is working.
Is the customer required to notify the transportation provider that she/he will be traveling with a service animal when scheduling a trip?
No. However, if a customer is applying for ADA complementary paratransit eligibility, she/he may be asked if she/he will be traveling with a service animal, just as she/he may be asked if they are traveling with a wheelchair or other mobility aid.
Under what circumstances can a provider refuse to transport a service animal?
If an animal is determined to be a service animal, the only thing that can prevent a transportation provider from being able to transport that animal with its handler is if the animal is not under control or is being disruptive or threatening to the safety of others. Transportation providers are cautioned against making assumptions based on past experiences with other animals, and to consider the behavior of each animal individually.
Disruptive behavior can range from being overly friendly, with the dog walking down the bus aisle nosing everybody’s lunch bag, to growling and being threatening, or lunging toward passengers or other animals. It is the handler’s responsibility to make sure these types of things do not occur and if they do occur that they’re stopped immediately.
Do service animals require a seat?
Not usually. Seats are reserved for fare-paying customers, and handlers are not charged a fare for their service animals.
Given that dogs are the most common form of service animals, they usually sit at the person’s feet under the seat, directly beside the mobility aid, or between the customer’s knees. If it’s a small animal, it might even sit in the customer’s lap or in a pouch or carrier.
Customers and the transportation provider are encouraged to talk to one another to determine what is reasonable if such a need should arise and work together on a solution. However, the transportation provider is not required to displace another paying customer to make room for the service animal.
Can a customer travel with more than one service animal?
Yes, as long as the animals are under the customer’s control at all times and the transportation provider is not required to displace other paying customers. Transportation providers are cautioned against asking personal or intrusive questions about the need for more than one animal. Different animals may provide different assistance. For example, one dog may provide mobility assistance while another may be a seizure alert animal. Similarly, customers should be prepared to answer questions about the tasks the individual animals have been trained to perform.
What about fear of animals or allergies?
Generally, these are not valid reasons for denying service to a customer with a disability who is accompanied by a service animal.
If a customer is afraid to walk past a service animal, one good solution is to consider allowing a customer to hand his fare to the driver and enter through another door. This may involve modifying policies about drivers not handling money, as would be done for a passenger who needs assistance paying the fare.
In general, allergic reactions are caused by direct contact with the animal. It should be possible to create enough distance between the passenger with the service animal and the passenger or driver with allergies on a rail car or a fixed-route bus to eliminate the possibility of contact.
On a smaller vehicle it may be more of an issue. For example, due to the shared-ride nature of paratransit, space is limited on the vehicle and trips tend to be longer. Staff may need to take care not to schedule a person (either a customer or a driver) with a severe allergy to animals on the same vehicle as a person traveling with a service animal.