Experiences with Dutch Public Transportation

I think that the Netherlands is seen as one of those highly efficient Germanic countries, and indeed their public transportation system is extensive and generally fast.  But boy is it ever expensive!  I recently traveled from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport to the Cruquius Museum, and saw that there were two ways to go-either I could take the bus directly from the airport, which required me to change bus later on, or I could first take the train to Hoofddorp before catching a bus directly to the museum.

I opted for the latter option but in hindsight I should have taken the two bus option.  Travel in the Netherlands is based on a chipcard called the OV-Chipkaart, which looks great on paper because the same card works for all public transportation throughout the entire country.  I happened to have a card already with 10 Euros on it which would have been enough to travel to the Cruquius and back, except that you have to have a minimum balance on the card in order to use it: 4 Euros for a bus, and 20 Euros for a train.  Actually I would have been able to take the two buses because the cost of that trip was 2.83 one way, but for some reason it didn’t connect in my mind that it would be cheaper to take only buses so I looked for a way to take the train.

I obviously didn’t have enough money on my OV Chipcard but while you can buy single-use tickets, they come with a 1 Euro penalty.  So I ended up buying a round-trip train ticket to Hoofddorp for 5.60 Euros.  That might not seem like a lot except that Hoofddorp turned out to be only one stop away, and it only took 4 minutes to get there!  I thought that that was an insane price for basically going to the next village.

Yes I know that it was my fault for not realizing that I could have done the trip cheaper by taking only buses, but the point is that while the system looks good on paper, in practice it is far from perfect.  The fact that there is a penalty for using single-use tickets is ridiculous for travelers because a 5- year plastic OV Chipcard costs 7.50 Euros which might not make sense for people staying in the Netherlands for just a short period of time.  And if the public transportation networks are going to be integrated, it seems that they should be integrated on price too and not just by working with the same travel card.

It gets even crazier for people living in the Netherlands because there is also a personalized OV Chipcard on which you can load travel products such as the ‘Dag Vordeel’ discount, which gives you 40% off off-peak train travel for 50 Euro/year.  This is fantastic value but the problem is that the product is linked to your bank account and is almost impossible to cancel.  When I was living in Holland you could only cancel these products over the phone, and you have to confirm the cancellation at an automatic ticket machine-impossible if you are not in the country anymore.  In fact at the time the trick was to report your card as stolen which would automatically cancel all travel products, something which could be done online.

I was a student in the Netherlands so the other thing I had to contend with is that I purchased the Dag Vordeel discount for a friend who didn’t have a bank account yet, a mess considering that I didn’t remember doing that two years later, after I had already left the country.  In fact after leaving the country I suddenly found myself in a situation where I was both told that I owed the Dutch rail company 50 Euros and not able to cancel the subscription because I was not in the country and could not hold the card up to an automatic ticket machine.  I did eventually track the card down and gave it to a friend to cancel for me, but it was a huge mess.

Overall then, yes the Dutch public transportation system is efficient as long as you permanently live in the Netherlands.  If you are visiting it is difficult to understand and expensive, but it sure is convenient, so the best advice I could give would be to grin and bear it and buy an anonymous OV Chipcard for 7.50 Euros and make doubly sure that you’ve found the best connection by checking where you want to go on the website www.9292ov.nl, the Dutch public transportation website.

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