Dutch public transport sector: shouldn’t it be more open?

IMG_1028In the last months, you may have read the news about pressure from different parties to the NS (Dutch national railway operator) to publish the data source of travel information and tariff. Such data can be used by software developers to develop travel applications and for research purposes whereby politicians and other parties/stakeholders can get more insight about the performance of NS. Some of the members of the House of Representatives (in Dutch: Tweede Kamer) even needed to put a motion to instruct NS to deliver this information.

It is not a secret that the Dutch public transport is a closed system. Not only in the monopolized national railway, but also in the competitive public transport bus sector. Data like timetable hours (TTH) or the number of passengers for each bus line, is very difficult to get. Public transport operators (PTOs) will certainly refuse to provide such data with ‘competition-sensitive’ as the reason.  This is of course difficult to understand because of two reasons. Firstly, PTA is the one who grants a contract to a PTO. How come a PTA does not have the power to ask for more openness from a PTO? Must it be written in the contract between PTA and PTO? If yes, how come it is not written in any concession contract almost 15 years after the Transportation Act 2000 (in Dutch: Wet Personenvervoer 2000) came into effect, where more than one hundred concessions have been granted since then?

Secondly, it seems that both parties forgot that almost (sometimes more than) half of the concession value comes from public money. Tax payers have the right to see the data.

In the UK, for example, you can get data of the number of passengers between two stations easily. Such data is available for public. Why is it not the case in the Netherlands which is famous for its open society?

It is understandable that some data might be sensitive, such as how much a PTO has paid to a bus manufacturer to buy the buses or what the contract value is for the maintenance of the buses. But operational data like the number of passengers per line, how many kilometres they made, how many TTH there are per concession, should be open.

Imagine when such data is publicly accessible, then all PTOs would be on the same level playing field. The incumbent PTO will surely have a head start, but it will not be huge as it is happening now. As a result, the competition to win a concession would be a smart and high level of competition. The PTOs must do their best to come up with a brilliant bid to answer challenges such as: how can we attract more passengers?, how can we further reduce CO2 and local emissions?, how to develop a smart and an efficient PT network to keep up with less subsidy due to the economic recession?.

Such a competition will in the end benefit the passengers, who in fact are the real clients of PTOs and PTAs. And they would love to see this sector moving away from the current traditional mind set and being more open to new dynamics of public transport.

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