Here’s our guide to the Dutch OV-chipkaart system, which is used on public transport in the Netherlands.
The OV-chipkaart has been the sole payment method for the Amsterdam metro from 27 August 2009 and will be the sole method of payment for bus and tram travel in Amsterdam from the end of 2009. Amsterdam’s public transport company GVB estimates that by the end of 2010 most of the Netherlands will have turned over to the new system and by 2011 the whole country.
Buying and crediting a card
The cards are issued anonymously or for a named individual.
Currently, you buy an anonymous card ‘for free’ at EUR 5; this money is counted toward your credit. You ‘load’ the anonymous smart-card at a vending machine. You can buy an anonymous card at tabacs or public transport stations in major Dutch cities and regions which have gone over to the smart-card system.
This card cannot be a reduction card. Anyone entitled to a reduction, apart from university students who order one via a different route, needs to apply for an individual card from the GVB.
You can apply for the individual card by post or online. You must supply a passport-sized photo and in the case of an online application, you scan your photo and upload it to the system. Go the OV-chipkaart site (click on the UK version for English) and follow the steps or pick up the form at a station. You can purchase the OV-chipkaart for EUR 7.50. That is a one-time fee for the card only. Once you purchase the card you can load any amount you wish. If you ride the NS train, you must have a minimum of EUR 20 loaded onto the card every time you ride.
For the individual card only you can choose to have it automatically ‘loaded’ from your bank account up to either EUR 10 or EUR 20 when the amount in the card falls below EUR 5, so you won’t waste time uploading from the machine and won’t get ‘caught out’ on a trip with no credit. You can choose to cancel or initiate automatic payments on the OV-chipkaart website or by filling in a paper form, which you can pick at any GVB service desk.
Should you lose your individual card, call 0900 0980 to block it (use the website to block it should the phone service not be available in the timeframe you call). You’ll get back any remaining credit over EUR 5. You don’t need to send in for another card as the system carries a duplicate photo and you’ll be issued with a new card to the cost of EUR 2.50 for administration.
Applying for a reduction card
Discount cards need to be individual cards. You use the same form but it is clear from your date of birth which category you fit into. From 65 years on you are entitled to a senior citizen’s tariff. Travel for children up to their fourth birthday is free. From 4 – 11 years inclusive, children pay a reduced child tariff. From 12 – 18 years, they pay a ‘student’ tariff.
Those who continue their studies after 18 years can apply for an ‘OV-studentenkaart’.
Students need to order an OV-studentenkaart card from the IBG (IB Group). They need to indicate on the form whether they want to travel free at weekend or weekdays. On the days that they travel for free on public transport in cities which use the OV-chip system, they still need to swipe in and out of the bus, tram and metro.
Students also get a traditional student card which likewise indicates when they are entitled to travel for free (weekends or weekdays) and they must show this to the relevant conductor on public transport when they travel in areas which still haven’t moved to the OV-chipkaart system. The same applies for travel on the Dutch railways in their ‘travel-for-free’ time. Outside this time they can apply for an NS train ticket at student discount with their student card.
When students travel with an OV-studentenkaart outside their free travel period, the credit on the card will be deducted from the smart-card account at a reduced tariff.
If you’ve applied for an OV-studentkaart and still haven’t received it within a reasonable time, you can contact the Studenten OV-chipkaart service on 0900-6655444 – have your student card number ready and they can check the status in their system. If they have no record of receiving your application, you need to refer back to IBG. Alternatively, check out http://studentenreisbewijs.nl.
How to use the OV-chipkaart
Swipe the card upon entering and leaving the bus, metro or tram. Don’t forget to check out or you’ll be charged the entire boarding rate of EUR 4! Otherwise, you pay for the distance travelled, unlike the zonal system used with the paper strippenkaart. If you forget to check out of the NS train you will be charged EUR 20 for a single ride.
With a strippenkaart, a journey costs EUR 1.60 for one zone (two strips) or less for kids and pensioners or if you buy multiple strips (15 or 45). Your stamped card is valid for an hour, regardless of transfers between, say, metros and trams. This is also true for the OV-chipkaart, though you do need to check in and out with each transfer.
If your journey includes one or more transfers and one of the public transport companies is not yet ready for the OV-chipkaart, paying by OV-chipkaart means you would pay the boarding rate twice. In this case, it is cheaper to use a strippenkaart for the entire journey.
Also, whereas you may stamp for more than one person on a single strippenkaart, this is not possible with the OV-chipkaart.
The OV-chipkaart can be used where the pink logo is displayed.
In most regions, season tickets and strippenkaarten will continue to be valid as long as the launch of the OV-chipkaart throughout the Netherlands has not been completed.
Afterwards, travel tickets other than the OV-chipkaart will gradually be cancelled. This will be announced in time, in the media and by the public transport companies.
Crossing over from train to tram
So what do you do when you travel by train and by tram? The GVB OV-chipkaart help line (0900-8011) is geared to answering questions regarding the smart card but not what to do if your travel route involves using both GVB and NS services. Some staff members on the helpline are better informed to answer such questions than others.
One expat explains that she has a monthly pass entitling her to travel tram, bus and metro within one zone in Amsterdam and Haarlem. “With the metro going over to the smart-card system on 27 August, the paper pass will not be allowed,” she says.
Upon asking at the GVB booth, she was told that the Dutch national train company NS, which issues the monthly pass, “has yet to offer an OV monthly chip card for people like me. Instead on 27 August, they will hand out a temporary OV chip card that will entitle me to travel for free.”
The officer at the GVB booth informed that the NS is likely to come up with a solution at the end of the year and provide monthly OV cards.
Update 15 April 2010: Using the OV-chipkaart on NS transport
Another thing to note is for riders who use both city and NS transport. You will need to have a one-time activation made for your card. You can have the card activated for the NS trains at Central Station. There is no charge for that one-time service.
There are many options for buying and loading the OV-chipkaart. Some include tobacco shops, Albert Heijn, metro stations, Central Station, as well as self-service machines. If you use the machines to load your cards, make sure you have coins. If you use some credit cards to load your OV-chipkaart there is an additional fee of EUR 1.
Finally, for those who ride short distances using the OV-chipkaart system, the new pricing structure will save you money. And, if you just need to ride occasionally, then one-hour cards are sold on the buses, metro and tram for EUR 2.60.
How the new system has fared so far
Dutch protestant newspaper Trouw reports that there are more problems with the public transport swipe card; people find the touch screen machines used to purchase and upload credits to the swipe card difficult to operate as, “the screens have to be hit really hard before they respond and others simply do not work.”
Radio Netherlands reports that Amsterdam’s public transport company GVB filed a formal complaint with Thales, the company that produces the touch screen machines. A similar problem occurred in January of this year when Rotterdam introduced the swipe card and Thales was fined several times.
According to Rover, the Public Transport-users Association, it’s ridiculous to blame the problems on the number of people using the machines. A Rover spokesperson tells the paper, “An evaluation of the swipe card’s introduction in Rotterdam revealed a huge number of problems. It appears that the GVB failed to learn anything at all from Rotterdam’s experiences.”
Whether you like it or not, if you use public transport in the Netherlands you’ll soon have an opinion on the practicality of the new system.
See www.ov-chipkaart.nl for more information (in English, as well as Dutch).
Photo credit: www.ov-chipkaart.nl.