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Traveling by Chicago public transit with a small dog

Photo by Arnold Gatilao

Photo by Arnold Gatilao

The Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) has three main pieces: the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) operates an elevated and subway rail system (the “L,” or “El”) and a bus system in Chicago and nearby suburbs; Metra operates a commuter rail service between Chicago and northeastern Illinois; and PACE operates a suburban bus system.

The CTA allows small dogs in carriers on the El and on CTA buses, with the following provisos: the carrier must be small enough to be “carried by one individual” and it “must be constructed in a manner that ensures protection of both the animal and customer” (which gracefully suggests both a zipper and ventilation panels). You cannot put the carrier on a seat, or on the ground in a way that impedes traffic flow (so, realistically, the carrier should sit on your lap). Unfortunately, this information is not included in CTA’s website, so I don’t have a link to give you. I learned it by speaking to a customer service representative at 888-YOUR CTA (you’ll understand how wacky this seems if you take a look at the CTA website, which is otherwise incredibly detailed). [2/24/12 The CTA site now does have a written pet policy, and here’s the first paragraph: “Only small pets in protective carriers are allowed on CTA buses and trains. Carriers cannot take up seats, seating areas or obstruct pathways on buses, trains or in stations and must be able to be carried on by a single person.”]

Metra now allows small pets on trains on weekends: “Pets are allowed on weekends only. Pets will also be allowed on trains on all holidays with a Sunday schedule. Only small pets in enclosed protective carriers are allowed. Carriers will not be allowed to take up seats, seating areas or obstruct pathways on trains or in stations and must be small enough to be carried on by a single person. They must fit in a passenger’s lap or under the seat at all times.” [5/14/16 Many thanks to reader Inaya for letting me know about the change in policy. Indeed, it’s progress; with luck, and good behavior from we owners and our pets, the doors may open wider.]

Small dogs in carriers are also allowed on PACE buses. Again, this is information I got by calling PACE directly (the telephone number is 847-364-PACE).

Other Chicagoland transit systems

South Shore Line uses some of Metra’s tracks to run an interurban commuter rail line serving southeast Chicago and northwest Indiana. “Small animals in carry-on cages” are allowed on the South Shore Line trains, but are “not permitted to occupy seats.” Your dog in her carrier, therefore, will need to fit on your lap.

Wendella is a privately-owned business that runs an array of boat tours around Chicago. “Only assist animals are allowed” on the Wendella tour boats.

Wendella also operates the Chicago Water Taxi (also called the “RiverBus”). The RiverBus “operates on a closed loop route on the Chicago River shuttling passengers between Madison Street on the south branch; La Salle Street and Michigan Avenue on the main branch; and River East on the main branch in Ogden Slip.” Unfortunately, Wendella’s policy applies here as well: only service animals are allowed on board.

For other posts about traveling with dogs on public transit, take a look at Dog Jaunt’s handy guide!


  • Doreen Reifel

    What is Metra’s problem with allowing a small dog, in a zipped carrier onboard their trains. If the CTA, Southshore Line, and airlines allow this, why doesn’t Metra?

    I would gladly pay for another for my small dog to travel on Metra. I know many other small dog owners who feel the same way.

    Thank you

  • Hello, Doreen — I totally understand your vexation! I’ve put in a couple of calls to the RTA and Metra media relations offices, and I hope to get a better understanding of why this one piece of Chicago’s public transit is different from the others. I’ll let you know what I learn! (The Bay Area, by the way, has a similar oddball situation — every major public transit carrier in the area allows small dogs in carriers onboard EXCEPT for CalTrain, which leaves a major gap in coverage for dog owners who want to use public transportation to get around.)

  • Heather M

    I take my little pup (half poodle, half chihuahua) to Navy Pier a lot, and have been told by workers on the Seadog boat company that dogs are welcome and encouraged. Theyre doing a deal in May (10% off?) and dogs are always free. They just need to be on a leash. My little gal is 14 so not sure how a speedboat would suit her, but maybe someone would want to sight see with their best friend.

  • Psst

    Nearly all these locales and facilities policies are obsolete, and possibly illegal.

    Since the State of Illinois requires complete conformance with the ADA, any dog that can be claimed by its owner as an “assistance animal” must be allowed in every facility that serves the public. The state and the federal government does not require the owner to have any special paperwork, or to answer _any_ question beyond stating that the dog is an assistance animal, and doesn’t require that the owner explain, or dog demonstrate, what the dog does for the owner.

    The only, very reasonable, limitations are that the dog must be on leash, tagged for rabies, quiet, well-behaved, sanitary and not interfere or present an _immediate_ threat to the other users of the facility. In restaurants, dogs are prohibited from being in food preparation areas, but not in serving areas.

    If all owners were to care for, and train their dogs to behave properly in public ( and communities would penalize owners who don’t), it might be possible to get communities to WELCOME dogs, as they do in Britain and most European countries.

  • It’s so vexing, isn’t it? I too am struck by the irrationality of being lax with the service animal “registration” process and strict with the pets-in-food-service-locations rules (though I firmly believe that the answer is not to fake that your pet is a service animal — and I realize that you’re not suggesting that).

  • Lisa

    We have taken our Cavalier on numerous occasions on the Shore Line Lake Water Taxis from Field Museum to Navy Pier. Also, we have taken him on the River Shore Line Water Taxis. They have been dog friendly to us

  • Lisa

    There are also 2 wonderful places that you can eat and drink and bring your dog to outside that I highly recommend. Obriens River Walk is near the Trump Tower down below on the river at State and Wacker. Drinks are wonderful and foods not bad either. If you are on the South Loop on Michigan Avenue not far from the Hilton there is a Brasserie By LM at 800 South Michigan where you can eat breakfast lunch or dinner outside.

  • Inaya

    I realize this is an old post, but I just wanted to let you know that RTA/Metra trains now allow small pets in carriers on weekends only. They’ve been piloting, so hopefully they’ll expand it to include weekdays in the future.

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