Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
Not all European subway systems are so generous to the four-legged.
Good news for Spanish dogs: for the first time ever, Madrid’s metro system is allowing them to ride the city’s subway trains without a ticket.
The new rules, which came into effect Wednesday morning, still don’t as yet constitute a canine free-for-all. The Spanish capital’s dogs must wear muzzles when they ride and avoid rush hour. And lest they feel like copying the many dogs who have taken to navigating Moscow’s metro alone, they must always be accompanied by their owners.
This four-legged fare amnesty might seem a little overdue, but Spain isn’t the most dog-friendly of European countries. Taking a dog into a Spanish store can raise eyebrows, while last year the Costa Del Sol, southern Spain’s main beach strip, banned dogs from its dunes. Spanish media have resorted to publishing lists of the increasingly rare beaches were dogs are tolerated.
It’s thus no surprise that the free-rides-for-dogs policy hasn’t been introduced quietly. In the comments section of this El Pais article, opponents have predicted that the metro will turn into a canine cesspool, while dog defenders have pointed out that, when it comes to familiar detritus such as vomit and sunflower seed shells, it’s humans that are the real problem.
Still, Madrid is only belatedly catching up with what’s become policy across much of Europe, albeit with some local variations. In Paris, dogs are allowed on the metro free, but only if they’re small enough to fit in a bag. You’ll commonly see a Chihuahua head poking out of a handbag on the metro, but except for guide dogs, rarely anything larger.
Things are laxer in Germany, where subway-riding pets are so ubiquitous that, after a while, it’s only their absence that’s conspicuous. Not only is Germany a dog-obsessed land—it’s not uncommon in Berlin to bring your dog to a bar—some transit systems are actually patrolled by canines. In Berlin, security guards prowl the U-Bahn and S-Bahn networks with (muzzled) Rottweilers. One of the most surreal experiences the city has to offer is taking an early morning subway after a night out and finding these Rottweilers altogether on one train as they leave the common kennel with their guards.
But while this suggests a greater tolerance for dogs, and causes no noticeable damage to the network’s cleanliness, Berlin dogs still have restrictions that Madrid’s pooches now evade. If a dog can’t fit in a bag, it has to ride with a ticket—albeit a child’s one.
The U.K. arguably gives dogs get the best deal. In London, the sole restriction is that dogs must be carried on escalators, which would theoretically rule out the city’s Great Danes and other giants but otherwise leave the field open. Realistically, London’s trains get so crowded that only a neglectful owner would make their pet submit to such a scrum. Off-peak, however, the practice is so accepted that Britain’s transit-loving dogs have their own Tumblr page.