Public transport in the Netherlands
‘Hang In There’ is a weekly series hosted by our Marketing & Communication intern: Hang Vu. After 2 years of studying in the Netherlands, Hang wants to share her most honest experiences with other internationals who are also living in the Netherlands generally and in Eindhoven specifically.
‘Hang in there’ is coming to save your day! Follow Hang this week to enter and master the world of the public transport system in the Netherlands.
When I was in Vietnam, public transport was something that I was not so into. The reason is Vietnamese people have a penchant for using private transport like motorbikes and cars on a daily basis more. However, moving to Eindhoven has completely changed my habit. Travelling by public transport in the Netherlands is quite expensive but it is extremely convenient for a long trip inside and outside the country. It is easy to buy a ticket but not everyone knows the tips and tricks to do it economically when using public transport for the long-term. Okay, say no more, let’s find out how the public transport system in the Netherlands works!
You can go anywhere by train in the Netherlands.
1. Dutch public transportation
There are 4 main public transport options in the Netherlands: bus, tram, subway and train. Metro is available in Amsterdam and Rotterdam and tram is offered in the four biggest cities, including Den Haag and Utrecht. While bus, tram and metro are more local and regional vehicles, train can be used across the Netherlands.
Tip: 9292 is a handy application that you should install on your smartphone. It provides you the planner of all public transport in the Netherlands, which would definitely make your travelling easier.
In order to get on any public transport here, there are two types of tickets that you need to keep in mind: the single-use chipcard and the OV-chipkaart.
The single-use chipcard is a limited access card and can only be used to travel on bus/tram/metro lines in a city or on a train route. You can get a single-use ticket at a ticket machine or service counters but it usually costs more. It is more suitable for tourists who stay in the Netherlands for only 1 week. Therefore, the second option that I am going to explain in-detailed below would be more beneficial for your pocket.
When it comes to OV-chipkaart, some abroad students and expats who come to the Netherlands for the first time might wonder “Why do I need another card in my wallet?”. But believe me, you will be amazed at how versatile this card is.
Basically, the OV-chipkaart is a contactless smart card that can be used for any kind of public transport in the Netherlands. There are two types of OV-chipkaart: anonymous and personal. Unlike the single-use disposable ticket that you get at a ticket machine or service counter, the anonymous and personal OV-chipkaart have two things in common: they are both stored-value, reusable cards and you need to pay a one-time purchase fee of €7,50. Checking in and checking out is required in the bus/tram/metro and at the poles/gates at the train station. For example: If you have an invalid ticket for not checking in/out with an NS Flex subscription (which will be explained below), you will get a fine of €20-50 as correction fee, excluding the ticket price that you should have bought and €15 administration costs. However, if you do forget to check out with your personal OV-chipkaart in the bus or after traveling by train (which could happen sometimes, I know, but don't let it happen too often), you can come to the OV-chipkaart website to claim a credit refund.
Now, let's dive deeper into the differences between them, as well as analyze their pros & cons so you can have an overview before making your decisions.
OV-CHIPKAART ANONYMOUS (COLOR: BLUE)
With this card, none of your personal information is required. All you need is a Dutch debit bank card (at Amsterdam Centraal and Schiphol Airport, they accept Master and Visa credit cards) to top up at the vending machines at the station for €10 minimum. If you prefer using cash, that is also fine because staffs who are sitting at the service desk in the train station are always willing to help you. But one small reminder: you have to pay an additional €0,50 for the service to charge the card with cash.
Your credit balance needs to be at least €20 to check-in before hopping on a train, and €4 for other public transports. After you check out, your balance is deducted based on your journey.
• You don't have to provide personal data so one card can be shared with friends/family members who come to the Netherlands for a short stay (but of course, if you travel together, you need more than one).
• The anonymous OV-chipkaart can be purchased in supermarkets or in the service counters in the station.
• For different carriers (for example: Arriva for the bus, NS for the train), you need different tickets. With an OV-chipkaart you can board with different transport companies.
• Charge/Recharge before being on board is a must.
• If your card is lost/stolen, well..., unfortunately, you have to say goodbye to the rest of your remaining credit.
• You have to buy full-price tickets since it is not possible to have a subscription/extra discount with the anonymous card.
OV-CHIPKAART PERSONAL (COLOR: YELLOW)
In contrast with the anonymous chipkaart, one crucial thing that you need to provide is your personal details. Your picture, name, and date of birth are shown on the OV-chipkaart. With a personal OV-chipkaart, you can add personal discount packages for train and bus tickets based on your needs to the card.
• If your card is expired, lost, or broken, your subscriptions, travel products, and balance will be transferred to your new card.
• With subscriptions, it is more saving for frequent passengers who travel by public transport daily or love travelling and exploring new cities in the Netherlands.
• With automatic reload, you always have sufficient credit on your card.
• If you choose NS Flex, your travel costs will be deducted directly via your Dutch bank account.
• Travel details are visible online through ‘My OV-chip' and the overview can be printed out easily.
• A personal card is only for you - the one and only you.
• Personal OV-chipkaart is only possible to purchase online after you have a Dutch bank account.
• If you travel within a short distance, using NS Flex might not be so economical since there is a possibility that you overpay, especially with Unlimited subscriptions.
Tip: For International students who have residence permits type II, III, IV, or V, check out the student finance on DUO.nl. When you successfully apply for financial aid, you will automatically get a student travel product as well. Link it to your OV-chipkaart. Voila! A miracle happens and you will travel during off-peak hours for free!
3. Travelling by train with a subscription
With train tickets, NS provides monthly subscriptions called NS Flex (or season tickets). NS Flex includes different sets of discounts, from a 40% discount during off-peak hours (9:00 AM – 4:00 PM and 6:30 PM - 6:30 AM), weekends, and holidays (Dal Voordeel) to unlimited travel (Altijd Vrij). Once you select your subscription online, it will be validated after 1 hour. NS Flex allows you to travel freely without any credit required. You will pay your travel expenses by monthly direct debit.
Tip: If you have not had an OV-chipkaart and are planning to use NS Flex, remember to buy a subscription that is €5 and above because you will get a free OV-chipkaart. No more one-time purchase fee of €7,50 as well as €10 for the NS administration cost!
4. Travelling by train without an OV-Chipkaart
If you travel occasionally and having an OV-chipkaart is not your thing, here are some tips that you can consider.
Travelling from 1 to 3 people:
Sometimes, at Kruidvat or Albert Heijn, you can find a limited number of discounted day-return tickets (NS dagkaart daluren) which are available in-store for around 1 week. With these tickets, you only have to pay €15 for a day-return ticket (valid outside peak hours, at the weekend and national holidays). Remember to check out their leaflets frequently so you will not miss any promotions!
Another saving option for non-OVchipkaart holders is an online train ticket via the NS app. If you travel with someone who has an OV-studentenkaart, NS Daluren or NS Season ticket (NS Flex), you will get a 40% joint journey discount during off-peak hours, national holidays, and weekends.
Travelling in a big group (4-7 people):
It is always fun to hang out with your friends. And the fun is even more enjoyable when you get a discount as a group! From 4 people, you can buy e-tickets on NS.nl for your group from €8/person/single ticket. For each additional passenger, you pay €1,50 more in total. The more, the merrier!
5. Travelling by other public transport in a nutshell
With bus-tram-metro, you can also find discount subscriptions on 9292.nl. Furthermore, if you only travel in a specific region, different regional public transport operators have their own travel packages. Let’s take the Noord-Brabant region as an example: You can buy a yearly subscription of €13,40 (for a 40% discount during off-peak hours on Hermes and Arriva buses) or €1,335.17 (for all time free), depending on your travel frequency. These subscriptions can be purchased from Arriva website.