This is a Guest Post by regular commenter Stuart Donovan, who has spent much of the last year living in Amsterdam.
Frankly my dears I’d have to give A’dam the full “douze points.” Living in Amsterdam is like wandering around in the middle of a fairytale – you half expect Shrek and donkey to wander by at any moment. The central canal district has been received UNESCO world heritage status and rightly so; it is astoundingly beautiful especially when cycling through on a sunny day.
Amsterdam is an economic powerhouse. A quick click through Wikipedia’s hallowed pages reveals it has 1.2 million inhabitants who collectively crank out a large proportion of the Netherlands’ economic output. But Amsterdam is more than a mass of economic activity; it is a city with a funky energy that permeates the whole city, even seemingly utilitarian aspects like transport.So what’s the link between Amsterdam and Auckland’s premiere transport blog? First, Josh and his partner have a new sprog on the family wagon so I figured he could use some guest posts to fill the gaps. Second, Amsterdam’s public transport ticketing system was developed by Thales, which is delivering HOP in Auckland. It’s there that the links between Amsterdam and Auckland end.
Amsterdam’s public transport system is supported by a high-quality heavy rail system that connects it to major destinations all over Western Europe. Most of the network is not technically “high-speed” but trains still get up to 200km/hr and traverse the entire country in under 3 hours, so in comparison to New Zealand standards it’s essentially operating at the speed of light.
At the local level the public transport system integrates three transport modes. A small but decent metro enables fast, long distance travel between the central city and some outlying suburbs. At the local level light rail and buses provide the wider network coverage. Notwithstanding the variety of transport modes, the overall public transport network comes together in a fairly logical fashion, mainly because of the emphasis on structured connections rather than point-to-point services.
This network structure is supported by the ticketing system, which manifests in my wallet in the form of an “OV chipcard.” The card is accepted on all public transport modes where users swipe on/off. On the rail and metro system you find gates at the entrance to the platforms, while the trams and buses have onboard sensors. “Swipes” are fast (faster even than Oyster in my experience) and overall boarding speed is greatly increased, especially on the metro where pre-swiping is required.
Topping up your card requires tracking down one of the multi-lingual touch screen machines, which support a range of payment options, including cash/coin and debit/credit. One smart feature is the “balance readers” – shown to the right of the figure above – that allow you to scan the card and quickly check your balance without having to queue for a top-up machine.
Ticketing technology is complemented by a smart fare structure, which sends warm shivers through this transport economist’s cold heart. One-hour cash fares start at €2.60, which is about twice the average cost when using a card, so there is a big incentive for people to get an OV card, even when visiting Amsterdam just for a few days. Cards can be purchased on trams or via the top-up machines. Alternatively, if you register for a personalized OV card then you get access to supplementary benefits, such as a 40% discount on off-peak rail fares.
With a stored-value card you are then subject to Amsterdam simple two-part fare structure. Fares consist of a “base fare” that you pay for every trip (€0.79) plus a “distance-fare” that you pay per kilometer travelled (€0.105 per km). This fare structure has a number of advantages: The base-fare discourages people from using public transport for short trips that should really be completed by walking and/or cycling, while the distance-fare encourages you to travel only as far as you need to. The two-part system removes the need for stages, although a clever “zone-star” system is used to set prices for monthly passes. Because the base fare is waived when you swipe on within 35 minutes of swiping out from another trip leg transfer penalties are greatly reduced.
For me the fare system is probably too simple: The distance-fare is the same across all modes and at all times of the day, which provides no incentive to use cheap modes (ie bus) or to travel at off peak times. But the whole system is superior to most I have experienced, so let’s just put more sophisticated fares in the “room for improvement” box and move on.
Ultimately, my experience with Amsterdam’s ticketing system leaves me optimistic that Auckland’s HOP card is the real deal. Nonetheless, maximizing the value of this technology requires that Auckland Transport use the implementation of HOP as a platform for overhauling the entire fare system. To start they should get rid of fare stages and start providing discounts for off-peak travel.
I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on the “ideal” fare structure for Auckland …