Public transport firms earn big on forgetful passengers

The Telegraaf reports that Dutch public transport firms, including major operators NS, Arriva and Connexxion, earn as much as 22,9 million euros per year from passengers who forget to check out with the OV-Chipkaart system.

Independent research firm Panteia conducted the study and states that, excluding costs, the Dutch public transport firms net at least 17 million euros from passenger error. Of those millions, Dutch state rail operator NS is reported to receive about half.

The full report, originally due out at the end of June, has been postponed until the end of August in order to confirm the numbers with the various organisations concerned.

Millions earned from passenger error

Travellers association Rover and the Dutch organization for mobility ANWB initiated the study from research firm Panteia.

The results have caused quite an uproar as the amount of 23 million euros per year (including costs) from passenger error is much higher than the few million which public transportation companies had previously cited.

At the heart of the matter is the procedure surrounding the OV-Chipkaart system used on Dutch public transport.

In the OV system, passengers check in by swiping the card at digital terminals which then automatically deduct a minimum based on transport method, currently at least four euros on a tram and 20 on a train.

When the passenger checks out at corresponding terminals at their destination, the balance for the amount travelled is then billed, with any surplus being returned to the customer.

However, if the passenger forgets to check out, the full 20 or four euros initially charged is taken regardless of actual distance travelled. In order to recover the overage, the passenger must file a claim with the appropriate transportation company.

When confronted with the numbers, a spokesman for the NS, one of the companies under the most scrutiny, refused to confirm the amount and simply responded that "We surely want to return it [to the passengers] but those passengers who have forgotten to check out need to report it for us to do so."

Public officials alarmed, discuss change

Upon the release of the numbers, the Tweede Kamer demanded an explanation from Wilma Mansveld, State Secretary for the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment.

According to political parties GroenLinks, SP and D66, travellers are entitled to restitution when unfairly overcharged.

GroenLinks is requesting an official written statement addressing the claims, with parliament member Liesbeth van Tongeren remarking "to so structurally allow people to overpay can almost be called theft." 

Although refusing to confirm any figures until the end of August, travellers association Rover was convinced that the final number will remain considerably high.

Based on the information, they advocate for changes to the OV system beginning with reinvesting the unclaimed money into making it more passenger friendly.

Rover particularly wants to see increases in uniformity, including checking in and out just one time per journey across different rail companies and a nationwide, straightforward procedure for requesting compensation after a problem occurs.

While refusing to release exact figures, the NS did confirm that the money earned from passengers forgetting to check out is indeed set apart and they will consider the suggestions of Rover and the results of the political investigation once the report is finalised.

Sources: De Telegraaf, NOS

Benjamin Garstka


Benjamin Garstka

Raised in Massachusetts. University years in New York City. Graduate school in Utrecht. Amsterdammer by choice. Cultuurliefhebber. Urbanist. Affinity for sarcasm, craft beers, art criticism, stand-up comedy and the Dutch...

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