Public Transportation and Pets: How 6 Cities Handle It

Before you take your pooch or kitty along on a trek around town, make sure you know if your city offers public transportation that allows pets.

Unlike this little fella, pets often need to be in carriers to ride the transit system in many major U.S. cities. Photo: Elsie esq.

As many canine and feline owners know, traveling with your pet companion can be an incredibly difficult task — especially if you rely on public transportation.

For the majority of the time, it’s not a major concern for people traveling from state-to-state or across the country. However, for those moving around their native city via certain rail, taxi or bus lines during a standard day, few options can seriously limit mobility. This can get tricky, considering that 62% of U.S. households own pets, according to the American Pet Products Association.

Furthermore, pet-friendly public locations are popping up everywhere, and even some employers are jumping on the wagon. Major corporations like Google, P&G, Ben & Jerry’s, Build-A-Bear Workshop and Amazon allow employee pets in the workspace.

As pets become more important in our lives, knowing acceptable forms of public transportation that allows pets can prove invaluable for owners with pet mobility concerns. Let’s take a look at some of the major U.S. cities and their available pet-friendly transportation options.

1. New York City (Population: 8.2 million)

  • Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA): Permits small pets in carriers on the Long Island Railroad, Long Island Bus and NYC Transit buses and subways. If passengers are seeking a leash-only option, the Metro-North Railroad will allow small dogs.
  • Port Authority (PATH): Allows small dogs/cats secured in carrying cases on all trains.
  • Seastreak Ferry: Dogs of all sizes can ride the ferry; however, they must remain on the outside portion of the ferry and must be on a short leash. If owners wish to bring their dog inside, the pet must be small and in a carrier (cats included).

2. Los Angeles (Population: 3.8 million)

  • Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation (LACMTA, MTA or “Metro”): Pets are allowed to travel without fee on all bus and rail lines if they are properly secured in a hard carrier. Passengers must be able to carry their pet in its crate at all times. They don’t recommend trying to muscle in a Great Dane!
  • Metrolink: Any pet fully enclosed in a pet carrier that fits either on the passenger’s lap or under the passenger’s legs is permitted.
  • Other L.A. transit providers that allow small pets in carriers, other than service animals, include: Big Blue Bus, Culver CityBus, FlyAway Bus (full fare purchase required), Glendale Beeline, Gold Coast Transit, Long Beach Transit, Norwalk Transit, OmniTrans and Orange County Transportation Authority.

3. Chicago (Population: 2.7 million)

  • Chicago Transit Authority (CTA): Small dogs in carriers that fit on the passenger’s lap are permitted on buses and trains. Also, the crate must be small enough to be carried by one passenger and shouldn’t impede traffic flow.
  • Other Chicago transit providers that allow small pets in carriers, other than service animals, include: South Shore Line and Pace Buses. 

4. Houston (Population: 2.1 million)

  • Metropolitan Transit Authority (“Metro” or “MTA”): The MTA is pet-friendly, as long as the passenger crates their animal properly.
  • Furthermore, the majority of residents reside in a 10-county area commonly known as “Greater Houston,” and the majority of commuters own private vehicles. However, because Houston is expanding their light rail lines and commuter rail system, public transit will draw larger crowds.

Carrying a cat or a dog on buses is nothing new, but check out this goat that can never seem to find a seat on a school bus:

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5. Philadelphia (Population: 1.5 million)

  • Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA): SEPTA currently permits the passage of small animals secured in covered containers. The carriers must be stored on the owners’ laps, and the animals should not disturb other riders. The rule applies to all SEPTA trains and buses.
  • Other Philadelphia transit providers that allow small pets in carriers, other than service animals, include: Port Authority Transit Corporation (PATCO), NJ Transit and Doylestown Rushbus.

6. Phoenix (Population: 1.5 million)

  • Although Phoenix is one of the larger cities by population, its public transit options are limited to one system because most residents live outside of the downtown area. Most residents own private vehicles as well.
  • Valley Metro: Consisting of a small METRO light rail and buses, Valley Metro allows small animals in crates to board with their owners. The cage must be small enough to sit on your lap.
Many cities allow dogs of a certain sizes on board if they can sit on their owners’ laps or fit underneath the seats. Photo: dichohecho

All Major Cities

As you may have noticed, most major public transportation systems offer limited flexibility when considering larger animals. Regardless, this is not an “end all” for dog owners attempting to hike their 100-plus-pound canine across town.

Though traveling by cab can hit the pocketbook hard, it could be your only available option. If you want the cheapest ride possible, we recommend shopping around. Larger cities are filled with a variety of cab companies — some are smaller and/or more flexible about pets than others.

In most instances where the cab driver owns the vehicle, it’s up to their discretion on whether or not your pet can ride. Either way, many cab drivers carry business cards and appreciate repeat business. Find one or two that like — or at least will allow — your pet and use them for future pet transportation needs.

If you’re looking to travel in a city not mentioned, contact the local public transportation providers. Most transit systems maintain standard policies and a customer service representative can fill you in on the details pertaining to your specific situation.

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This featured contribution was written by Mark Healey, who writes about and closely follows the pet insurance industry, specifically ASPCA Pet Insurance. He also enjoys learning about trending pet-related news across the web.