The public transport system in the Netherlands is in general good. There are buses, trams, metros and trains to help you make your way across the length and breadth of this small nation. But what do I know, I grew up with British Rail so anything seems good in comparison.
1. Get Yourself an OV Chipkaart
Those of you who were in the Netherlands prior to the dawn of the OV Chipkaart will remember having to travel with a strippenkaart. Thankfully, that is now obsolete. It was one of the most convoluted elements about travelling on public transport in the Netherlands. You needed to know how many transport zones you were travelling through (and then add one, double it, half it and guess which number I first thought of) to pre-stamp the paper strip; that was if your strippenkaart wasn’t in at least two pieces because it was long so you had to continually fold it multiple times to get it in your purse/wallet/handbag/pocket and it tended to erode along the creases.
So these days you need to get a travel card. You can purchase a personal travel card, an anonymous travel card, a business travel card, a student travel card, a temporary travel card or one that expires after a certain number of years. You can acquire travel passes that automatically load money onto your card (the source being your own bank account before you get excited about free travel) or cards that you have to add credit yourself to by means of a machine (which if you live outside of big cities with big railway stations can be a challenge.)
You simply hold your OV Chipkaart in front of the machines on the transport means you use as you enter and check out again as you leave the train/tram/bus etc. That is assuming the machines are working as you get on, and are still working when you make an exit. Just try not to forget to check out – otherwise the Dutch transport system believes you to be riding near and far for days at a time…..
So you see, the days of the strippenkaart are well and truly behind us and paying for your travel has got soooo much easier and less confusing!
2. Allow Plenty of Time
A 15 minute car journey will take you at least an hour with public transport. Enough said.
3. Learn Useful Local Phrases
If you are going to regularly travel by train, bus, tram or metro it would be handy if you learned how to say “Please could you move your bag from that seat so I can sit down” in Dutch. The answer will be rolling eyes, tutting or even “Nee,” so be sure to take an assertiveness training course before ditching your car for public transport.
4. Accept You are Not Special
Being pregnant and the size of a baby elephant is no reason to expect anyone to give up their seat for you. Being old is something you need to live with and again no reason to object to standing for your entire journey. If you are feeling faint this is also a poor excuse to ask for a seat (but no worries because the sheer volume of the crowd will keep you upright). That healthy looking teenager blaring on his mobile phone and sharing the noise on his MP3 player with the entire carriage needs that seat more than you ever possibly could.
5. Bear in Mind the Season You are Travelling in
If it is autumn the wrong type of leaves can easily make their way onto the tram or train tracks (nope, not only England has the wrong leaves). In winter, snow and ice can stop any kind of movement on the rail tracks and tram lines. Oh and the roads of course so buses also cease to transport people to their destinations. Summer is usually when ‘essential’ works take place on the rails and tram lines, making public transport unreliable, infrequent and anybody’s guess.
6. Hold On
Bus drivers, particularly those taking you down a motorway to your intended destination, do not factor in that you as a passenger are without a seatbelt or are standing with little or no support in the aisle because the bus is full. Full twice over in fact. Note that you can also be upended by a tram pulling into a tram stop. Hold on tight.
7. Take Notice of the Bell
If you hear a tram bell – MOVE OUT OF THE WAY. A tram will not stop or slow down for you. If you refuse to move you and/or your bike will end up wrapped around the front end of the tram and much screaming and shouting in Dutch will ensue. The bell means business so listen out for it.
8. Sharpen Your Elbows
The Dutch don’t queue. It’s that simple. The bus/tram/train arrives and you elbow your way on. Believing that your early arrival at the tramhalte, bus stop or train platform entitles you to get on your chosen method of transport before the throng of people behind you will only lead to disappointment confusion, frustration and anger. Sharpen your elbows.
9. Buy a Bike
To be honest, if the journey you are regularly undertaking is less than 10km away, buying a bike may be your best option. Bikes are cheap, cycle lanes and bicycle parking are aplenty and routes are well signposted. Cycling with the Dutch is not without risk of course… but that’s a topic for another day.