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Traveling by San Francisco/Bay Area public transit with a small dog

Photo by David Paul Ohmer

Photo by David Paul Ohmer

There are lots of providers of public transit in the San Francisco Bay Area. Stick with me, and we’ll work through the most prominent ones.

First and foremost is Muni, or the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA). Muni runs bus, trolley bus, light rail, cable car and streetcar lines, largely within San Francisco city and county limits. Muni’s pet policy is as follows:

  • Non-service animals may not ride weekdays 5-9 am and 3-7 pm.
  • During the permitted hours, a muzzled and leashed pet dog (one per vehicle) may be allowed.
  • All other pets and non-service animals must be carried in small closed containers.
  • A fare equal to the owner’s must be paid for each non-service animal

Since you have no idea whether you will be the first dog owner on board your chosen vehicle, it would be wisest to assume that your dog will be traveling in a carrier. The term “closed” suggests that the carrier needs to have a zipper (soft-sided carrier) or a latch (hard-sided carrier).

BART (or Bay Area Rapid Transit) operates a system of electric commuter trains from Oakland to Fremont in the north, Richmond in the south, and eastwards to East Bay cities like Pittsburg and Pleasanton. The customer service representative I spoke to at BART stated that small pets in a carrier are allowed on BART. [1/9/13 The BART website now spells it out: “BART allows pets to be brought aboard at no additional charge. The only requirement is that the pet must be secured in a container that is specifically manufactured for transport of a pet.”]

CalTrain fills in a big gap in BART’s coverage, namely, the area between San Francisco Airport (SFO) and San Jose, some 45 miles south on the Peninsula. CalTrain‘s trains are regular diesel engines and cars, and look a lot like Amtrak trains. Only service animals are allowed on CalTrain, making it the only major public transit entity in the Bay Area that does not allow small pets in carriers on board. How lame! (Please note that the link is a little ambiguous, since it only talks about service animals; I did, however, also call CalTrain and confirmed that pet dogs are not allowed onboard.)

SamTrans (San Mateo County Transit District) operates buses in San Mateo County (with tendrils of service into San Francisco to the north and Palo Alto to the south). The customer service representative I spoke to at SamTrans stated that small pets in carriers are allowed on SamTrans.

AC Transit (or the Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District) operates a bus system running “from Richmond/Pinole in the north, to Fremont in the south, to Castro Valley in the east, and west into and from San Francisco.” AC Transit’s pet policy is as follows: “You must carry pets brought on AC Transit buses in a container secure and small enough to fit on the owners lap. The animal must not be a danger or annoyance to other passengers.”

VTA (or the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority) operates bus and light rail systems (including the Dumbarton Express) in the Santa Clara Valley, from Mountain View and Palo Alto southwest to Morgan Hill and Gilroy. VTA has a blessedly easy-to-find pet policy: “Customers may  transport small pets on VTA buses and light rail in a completely enclosed cage or carrying case that is small enough to fit on the customer’s lap.  The animal must not endanger or annoy other customers.”

Golden Gate Transit, Golden Gate Ferry and Marin Transit offer bus (and ferry) transit options to North Bay passengers. A customer service representative told me over the phone that small pets in secure containers are allowed on Golden Gate Transit and Golden Gate Ferry. Another phone conversation with Marin Transit confirmed that their pet policy is the same: small pets in secure containers are allowed on board.

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


  • Mayumi

    I just found your site and though I pretty much learned all about these policies by experience, this information would definitely have been helpful if it were available in one spot a long time ago. Thanks for posting!!

  • You’re welcome! Maybe my posts about public transit policies in other cities will be newer news to you, and useful when you’re traveling — they’re listed under the “Guides” tab at the top of the page.

  • niffer

    Your a god sent!

    I just moved to the bay area about 2 weeks ago and This is perfect information. I have a small/ medium cat that I brought with me. She is my baby, I’ve had her since she was 6 weeks old (Loralie is now 8). I’m kind of bouncing back and forth between the east bay and north bay until I find a job and I needed to know if I could bring her with me while I bounced. This was such a huge help and an awesome idea for a blog. Thank you for taking the time to research this stuff and putting it all in one place!

    Thank you thank you thank you!

  • Oh, I’m so pleased!! (And I’m totally impressed by your cat — I wish ours were good travelers!)

  • EK

    Fantastic info on this site! Thank you so much for posting! I’m moving to the Bay Area (most likely Oakland) with my min pin in a few months. So I’ve been researching the internet for ways to live car-free with a pet in the city. I’m an avid hiker, so I’m also trying to figure out where to enjoy weekend hikes with my pet, and how to get there 🙂 Thank you for creating this site!

  • Marco

    Great blog! Thanks!

    I wonder if I (as a customer) have any ways to influence the pet policy of Caltrain, at least to uniform it with the other major carriers (e.g. pet in a container fitting on my lap).

    My family + our dog + me travel from Sunnyvale to SF and back quite often, and not being allowed to use Caltrain is expensive for both us and Caltrain itself (which loses 6 tickets each time).

    But maybe Caltrain doesn’t really care about customers’ needs..

  • Hi, Marco! I have no idea, is the answer. Perhaps you could call Caltrain’s customer service, and ask them how best to bring the issue to the attention of the people it needs to reach? I would ask in a calm, businesslike way — the person you’re talking to doesn’t make the policy, after all, and you’ll be most persuasive if you offer, ultimately, good business reasons for Caltrain to change its policy. Good luck — all my fingers are crossed for you!

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