June 3rd 2010 marked a public transport milestone in The Netherlands as the Strippenkaart’s validity was withdrawn completely from the Amsterdam and Rotterdam regions.
The paper ticket remains popular with passengers, however despite its colourful presentation and intermodal flexibility, the way in which it was used needed a large amount of knowledge by both transit user and fare collector. By far its worst drawback for transit operators was its lack of revenue protection and as I mentioned here the new OV Chipkaart system plugs many of the Strippenkaart’s holes.
So how did the Strippenkaart work?
There were two types of Strippenkaart, the 2 or 3 strip tickets which were available from the conductor and were the ‘ad hoc’ ticket, and the larger pre-paid tickets in 15 or 45 strip denominations. They looked like this;
The number of strips used was determined by counting how many zones were travelled through PLUS 1 extra strip as a “Boarding Fee”. When boarding, the transit user declared their destination or the number of zones required to complete their journey. In the case of the former the conductor would have to recall how many zones the journey would cross in order to complete it. Travel wholly within 1 zone would need 2 strips. Travel to an adjoining zone would need 3.
In terms of fare evasion or revenue protection there were popular examples of where the system broke down. Some tram services have no conductor so boarding through a door other than the one by the driver would require you to stamp your own ticket rendering the service as an “Honesty Policy”. On GVB Tram 5 which has no conductor, people would save strips on their ticket by waiting for the tram to get to a zone border where the stamp machines would change data, and only then stamp their ticket, if they did at all. During peak periods, people boarding a connecting service or with a pre-stamped strippenkaart would “flash” it to the conductor who had virtually an instant to decipher all the stamped information. Overwhelmed by the amount of people and strippenkaarts being presented, access was usually granted. Only a random ticket inspection would provide further security.
So what are the advantages of the OV-Chipkaart SmartCard?
You pay for what you use much more accurately with the OV Chipkaart. Each bus and tram is equipped with a GPS that informs the on board system where the unit is. When a passenger starts their journey they swipe their card against a reader. They do so again at the end of each leg of the journey. The GPS system works out the distance travelled and deducts the tariff from the balance on the card. The Metro network works slightly differently as the stations have ticket barriers which open when you present your OV-Chipkaart. The new system also applies a boarding fee and then uses a per-kilometre tariff, the levels of which are decided by the transit operator. Should you check-in again within 35 minutes on a service operated by the same provider no further boarding fee is deducted. In an attempt to prevent abuse and to secure revenue, failure to validate your ticket by checking out will result in a penalty fee. On the GVB in Amsterdam this is €4.
The check-in and check-out card readers automatically validate each ticket upon entry, with appropriate green or red lights and noises to highlight problems. Zone calculations are no longer required and the system does the maths upon exit. The conductor’s role is now to sell short journey tickets and to provide security for people boarding with invalid cards.
Is the new OV-Chipkaart system perfect?
No. Despite this, not every loop hole has been closed. Some passengers check out their card soon after boarding, paying only the boarding fee. Whilst obviously risking a ticket inspection and the fact that the conductor will hear the machine, it is a noted problem. On the metro in Amsterdam, although the large stations have barriers, the smaller suburban stops are open in design and still rely on you swiping your card on a platform reader. Transit operators will still need human validation where the design of boarding points is more open.
Confusion is also a problem at intermodal stations where a choice is available between service providers. In Amsterdam travelling between the Amstel and Centraal stations is more complex. Whereas with the Strippenkaart you could stamp your ticket and board either a NS train or a GVB metro, you now have to decide upon which you are going to take before reaching the platform. You also have to ensure that you validate your OV-Chipkaart at the appropriate reader, as NS and the GVB have separate yet very similar readers. This reflects the fact that they also operate differing fare structures.
So how much more efficient is the OV-Chipkaart?
You have to separate the argument regarding transit cost with transit service. The OV-Chipkaart is more expensive for some journeys, cheaper for others. The convenience factor is separate to the cost factor and those that complain about the new system should not do so merely on an external factor such as transit cost which is levied by the operator. The technology in itself is a lot faster, fairer, clearer and convenient. Arguments persist about the manner of it’s introduction and I understand that, but the way in which it operates as a fare controller is beyond doubt.
Despite lingering security issues, the OV-Chipkaart is a step in the right direction. Boarding times are shorter, convenience is greater and a huge amount of real time usage data is available for the provider to fine tune their services. It has been widely and quickly adopted by the main transit providers across all the different transport modes which means calculating each fare and working out how to buy each ticket is no longer an issue. But it is once again in the area of revenue protection that the system really works. Despite public concerns that the OV-Chipkaart system now operates to a higher fare structure it is it’s ability to accurately collect that revenue that makes it a big operator win. In Rotterdam, 1 week after the metro network withdrew the use of the Strippenkaart, revenue had gone up by 30%.