Will the Netherlands also experiment with cheap trains?

NOS Newstoday, 16:34

  • Erika de Joode

    editor Online

  • Erika de Joode

    editor Online

Now that fuel prices are rising, inflation is high and there is an increasing focus on sustainable mobility, several European countries are experimenting with cheap or even free public transport. They follow the example of Luxembourg, where the train has been free since spring 2020.

In Germany, people could travel unlimited this summer for 9 euros per month on most trains, buses and trams. Spaniards have been able to use free monthly tickets for short and medium-long train journeys since Thursday, in a trial that will last until the end of the year. And it doesn’t stop there: public transport in Malta will be completely free from 1 October.


The Dutch government finds the European initiatives for free or cheaper public transport interesting, says a spokesperson for the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management. But the question is whether such trials have the desired effect, she adds. “Are more people really going by public transport, or are it mainly the people who have already traveled by public transport that will cover more kilometres?”

The Knowledge Institute for Mobility is currently conducting research into this question. This includes the question to what extent a ‘price incentive’ can get people out of the car. The results are expected in October. On the basis of this, the ministry makes choices about possible “tariff promotions” in public transport.

Billions of euros

However, the question is also whether free or much cheaper public transport is feasible in the Netherlands. Because how much will that cost, now that the NS is still suffering significant losses after corona and already does not have enough staff to run all trains?

It is estimated that making all public transport in the Netherlands completely free will cost about 4 billion euros per year, excluding the costs of any additional trains, buses, trams and personnel. According to the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, if only train tickets were to become free, that would cost more than 2 billion euros.

And what if public transport tickets are sold for half the current price? According to the spokesperson for the department, the situation is “more complicated” and it is difficult to say how much money would be involved.

The NS says it welcomes all initiatives to make public transport cheaper, but also does not want to go back to the period before corona, “where the train was really overcrowded at times”.

A spokesperson says that many discount tickets are already available, for example for young people and during off-peak hours. There is also a trial with cheap train tickets outside rush hour on the The Hague-Eindhoven route.

(No) VAT on train tickets

NS previously argued for the abolition of VAT on train tickets, which is now 9 percent. According to the Ministry of Finance, this would cost about 300 to 400 million euros, depending on the number of public transport passengers.

For the time being, the government has not opted for this, but the European Commission is working on the subject. Later this year, the committee will come up with proposals on VAT on (international) train tickets. The government wants to await those European proposals.

Target audiences

The countries that are experimenting with free or almost free public transport say that they do so not only to stimulate sustainable transport, but above all to ease the burden on residents in times of high inflation. There are no plans for this in the Netherlands. If they come, it will be in October at the earliest, when the research into price incentives by the Knowledge Institute for Mobility is complete.

“The results of the research are input for policy choices,” says the ministry. Cheaper train tickets for certain target groups, such as people with a low income, are currently not being worked on, the spokesperson said. According to the NS, the latter is also difficult to implement, because the rail operator must then know what someone’s financial situation looks like. “It will be very difficult to do that fairly for the whole country.”

The article is in Dutch

Tags: Netherlands experiment cheap trains

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