Ever since I started going to a school in another city at the age of 9 or 10 I had to take a the bus. This was my first experience with public transport and I still use it frequently. I'm 29 now and still don't own a drivers license. Why? Well basically I've never needed it. I either use my bike to get where I want to go or use public transport. And if that doesn't work out my friends always help me out with a ride in their car. Sure I could use a license, especially for my upcoming trip through Australia and New Zealand or even for work, but getting a license would mean cutting 2 months of my trip. And I think I'd rather hitchhike in parts where public transport isn't possible than do that.
Public transport in The Netherlands is quite good. Sure we rant about the trains being late and when the first leaf or snowflake falls on the rails it causes the entire trainsystem to die on us but generally it's good. Recently however the government and major transport companies introduced a new payment system, based on the UK Oyster card that uses RFID. It's called 'OV-Chipkaart' from Dutch openbaar 'public' + vervoer 'transport' + chipkaart 'chip card'). The idea is great but lets just say it was implemented with stupidity, at least for train travel.
When I first heard about the system that would be replacing paper tickets and stripcards I figured that this would be a good thing. Sure privacy wise it's a nightmare and even one that made the news in The Netherlands a couple of times but than you can opt-in for a anonymous OV-chipkaart if you wanted one. But this post isn't about the privacy issue; it's about why something that could have been easy has been made difficult.
When you get one of these cards and you want to travel by bus, tram or metro it's pretty straight forward. Just put some money on it, hold it in front of the gate or scanner and get into the transport of your choice. When you are at your stop scan it again and get out. Easy as pie. But traveling by train is quite different. You can't just show up at the trainstation and use your card...no that would have been to easy. You need to activate the card before you can use it there. And activating it at the trainstation isn't even possible. To activate the bloody thing for train travel you have to first use the website of the NS (Nederlandse Spoorwegen or Dutch Railways) and insert your cardnumber. And after 1 hour, so they say (cause for me 1 hour was 1 day), you get an e-mail saying that you can activate your card at one of the ticket machines. Yeah that's right those things at the trainstation. Finally when you've activated the card you are set to go. Why?
I just don't get it. It works great for bus, tram and metro when you buy it but for the train, which is public transport the last time I checked, you need to follow a separate procedure. Why not activate it for train like for the rest of public transport, right away!
There are many other things I dislike about the system. Like not having any (weekend) return discounts you use to have with paper tickets, making the system more expensive for the consumer than the old one. I guess we are paying for it in the end. But the above mentioned issue is probably the most hated by me. Sure it's just the one time you need to do it. But it's not really user friendly now is it. Nobody wants to think about these sorts of things, they just want to travel and get there on time without any big fuzz. In short the commute made easy or at least easier.