Paid to wait: the NS refund policy
NS train delays are expected only to get worse, but at least passengers are entitled to compensation. That's right. The NS will refund your fare if you've waited 30 minutes or more for a train. Andrew Conaway explains how to cash in.
Carmen Jimeke knows the NS train system in Holland all too well.
The 27-year old social services administrator, who has been riding the train pretty much daily since graduating high school, received two refunds from the train service as part of a new refund policy started earlier this year.
Most days on her daily commute from Amsterdam to her job in Utrecht are OK she says.
"But, some days its really hell, really bad" she says, rolling her eyes. "So its good when you can say in the back of your mind, 'well, I at least can get my money back for this disaster. I would rather be to work on time, of course, but at least you get something."
So she jumped at the opportunity when the policy was announced by the NS which aimed to raise the quality of service in the system by refunding money if trains are delayed for more than 30 minutes later than departure time.
And it seems a lot of her fellow riders also jumped at the opportunity. The NS reported that it refunded NLG 2.25 million in the first three months that the policy went into effect on 15 February. More than 150,000 claims were filed, Ingeborg Faber, a spokesperson for the NS told Expatica.com - or about 10,000 claims per week.
"It is an agreement with the government and our customers which is an agreement about quality," said Ingeborg Faber, a spokesperson for the NS. "If the trains are late then we will refund your money - it's that plain."
The refund works like this: If the delay is in less than an hour, but more than 30 minutes, then the passengers are returned 50 percent of the ticket price. Delays in excess of one hour are refunded the entire amount of the ticket for that segment of the trip. On a return portion of a round-trip ticket, however, only 25 percent of a 30 minute delay is refunded and 50 percent of a delay in excess of one hour.
The minimum refund is five guilders, so if your child travelling with you has a 2.50 guilder ticket, they will not be compensated for the delay.
You have three months from the date of the delay in which to file your claim and should receive a refund within six weeks.
You won't need to buy a stamp to mail in your refund letter provided that you use their special envelope, which you can get at the ticket window when you pick up your refund form - though, you will have to endure the added queue.
However, a departure delay beyond the control of the NS, for example flooding or a fire, will not result in a refund.
Another rider at Amsterdam's Central Station who liked the new policy was Anya, an economics student who would only give her first name.
"I think it's nice that if you are late for work or you miss a performance or something that you get some kind of reward for your trouble," she said. "Then they maybe will think more about us if they have to refund a whole train full of people."
She grinned at the thought.
The NS, which was founded in 1878, and moves more than 300 million people per year -or about a million people per day on average - was privatised in 1995 - but is still 100 percent owned by the Dutch government.
The agreement came about due to increased complaints by irate passenger of the beleaguered train system.
Versteeg Marcel, a board member with the passenger advocacy group, Rover, which pressured the Ministry of Transportation and the NS for the refund policy, says that service quality on the NS has been declining for a number of years but has been decreasing rapidly in the years after privatisation.
"People were angry," he said. "They asked us 'why can't I get my money back if I don't get what I pay for - a certain level of quality for which I am paying?"
"So we felt that this would be a way of forcing NS to keep their end of the agreement - like a punishment for bad service," he added. "I think there should be some nervous people at top of NS right now with these kinds of refund amounts."
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Transportation explained that some of the problems are due to a lack of equipment. She noted that trains take up to four years to be delivered once ordered and the amount of passengers on the system has been at or near the highest they have ever been producing much strain on the system.
Currently details of the refund policy are not available on the NS's website, www.ns.nl, but plans are underway to get the details online in the coming months.
And get ready for more delays. The NS just announced that there will be fewer trains around the country during the summer months since many of the drivers of the trains and other personnel are taking their usual summer vacations at this time. Around the Amsterdam area the problem will be even more acute - with 300 fewer trains in service between 16 July and 2 September.
16 July 2001