Is the Netherlands ready for paperless train tickets?


July 9th 2014 will mark the end of the paper train tickets in the Netherlands. Starting from that day, passengers can only use public transport smart cards to travel with the train. As always, implementation of a new policy will benefit ones and harm others. Using paper tickets gives comfort for some segments of passengers, such as disabled and elderly passengers and non-regular passengers, which are not really handy with tap in/out. If passengers who are used to use public transport smart card can forget to tap, let alone the non-regular passengers. If they forgot to tap in and got controlled, they would get a fine. If they forgot to tap out, they would lose some amount of money (when tap in, a certain amount of money is deducted from the card, which is mostly twice higher than the price of the average travel distance). Passengers who forgot to tap out can call the customer service and they will get their money back. But it requires effort and time which make some people decide to let it go.

Another thing that might bother the passengers is the price difference in travelling in the peak and off-peak hours. In the Netherlands, when you travel by train outside the (morning and afternoon) peak hours, you will get 40% discount of the full price. Imagine if someone’s journey crosses both peak and off-peak hours. With paper tickets it is possible to buy two separate tickets for those two different time windows. With smart card, you need to tap in/out for one time-window and do the same for the other time-window. Which means you need to get off the train at the station in the middle of your journey, find a card reader, tap in/out again, and pray that while you are doing that, the train has not departed yet.

On the other side, paper tickets cannot provide accurate and actual data as much as smart cards. NS (the Dutch national railway operator) must manually survey the passengers in order to research the passengers’ travel behaviour. It will take some time before they can get the results. These problems are actually tackled by the smart card system that makes such data digitally available in less than a day. You can imagine what such data can do to eventually help NS to improve its service for the passengers by knowing exactly their travel behaviour, e.g. adjusting the train length when more passengers are expected to prevent an overcrowded train.

At the end of the day, it is the passengers’ travel experience that matters. NS must figure out a mature smart card payment system that is easy to understand and to be executed by the passengers. It is just not logical that you make it difficult for someone who is going to pay. We can think of a smart card reader that can calculate how much a passenger needs to pay when he taps out, even if the journey crosses both peak and off-peak time windows. It should also be possible to connect a personal smart card with a mobile phone app that can remind the passenger to check out.

The bottom line is, it is time to make public transport a client-centred business. If a new policy can harm how the passengers perceive their journey with public transport, we must not surprise if they go back to use their private vehicles, which would be a very expensive effect for the society. It can threaten the goal to reduce the transport related CO2 emissions in the Netherlands.

Let me know how you think by leaving your comment here below.

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