Venlo, in the South East of The Netherlands, is a mid-size town close to the border with Germany. Serving a local population of 100,000 Venlo’s station is located on a strategic junction in the rail network of The Netherlands and receives twice-hourly Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) Intercity services to The Hague (via Eindhoven) and a twice-hourly stopping service to both Nijmegen and Roermond, operated by Veolia. It is also at the head of an International line from Monchengladbach, Germany which crosses the border just 3.5km from the station. This service allows passengers to reach Dusseldorf in a little over an hour or Cologne in just 90 minutes with a change in Monchengladbach.
This international service is operated on an hourly basis and is branded as “EuroBahn”. It provides a convenient conduit for passenger traffic as the next possible border crossing to the North is Arnhem or to the South at Heerlen, both over an hour away. Up until 1999 Venlo was also a stop on an Intercity service between Cologne and Eindhoven, but this service was withdrawn due to apparent low ridership.
Accessibility of International Services
Inside the main entrance to Venlo station passengers will find both NS and Deutsche Bahn (DB) ticket machines. Whilst the NS machine operates in the standard way, users of the Deutsche Bahn branded machine will find this message on the welcome screen.
In English the message reads “For each person and for each bicycle you have to purchase and validate a “Supplementary-ticket” in addition to your VVR ticket, before you travel between Venlo and Kaldenkirchen”
The VRR is the Verkehrsverbund Rhein-Ruhr or the Regional Transport Association of the Rhine-Ruhr Area in Germany.
There is also this poster next to the DB machine;
The English translation “The supplement ticket is considered to be a 2nd class VRR ticket from Venlo to Kaldenkirchen.” [The 2nd paragraph repeats the message from the ticket machine] then, “For journeys beyond Kaldenkirchen a VRR ticket for tariff a, b or c is always to be purchased and stamped. When riding from Venlo to the regional transport area in the first class of the German railway company are additional tickets required that are approved for use in the first class railway companies in the area of the region. Information about monthly supplements for IC trains, for which a fee is required in terms of VRR and transition rates in NRW, are obtainable through the sales points and ticket machines of DB”
The provision of the “ZusatzTicket”
In order to supply tickets for travel into Germany, the DB ticket machine has been loaded with fares from the VRR enabling the purchase of tickets for both VRR and the greater NordRhein Westfalen state. Crucially however, the VRR fare tariff does not cover Venlo, so the solution offered is to provide the ‘Zusatzticket’. Meaning “Supplementary” in English, the Zusatzticket permits you to travel to Kaldenkirchen, the first station inside Germany. Once there the fare structure of the VRR applies and the regular tickets that available to purchase at Venlo become valid. At the time of writing the ZusatzTicket costs €2.60 one-way.
- The ticket machine does not list Cologne (State capital of NRW) as an available destination because the machine does not display a list of alphabetical desitnations, so passengers maybe unaware that they can buy a ticket to many destinations.
- You can’t buy the Zusatazticket in advance online, only at Venlo station, or the on-train personnel if travelling towards Venlo.
- The ticket machine does not offer through tickets to any of the major German cities such as Berlin, Stuttgart or Munich, meaning that potentially the customer has to buy a 3rd ticket to complete their journey.
- There are no directions telling you which type of ticket you will need, or indeed, which of the valid options would be the cheapest. You have to know this in advance.
- All the fares quoted are from/to Kaldenkirchen and do not take into account the cost of the Zusatzticket which is separate.
- The only ticket issued by this machine valid for journeys from Venlo is the Zusatzticket to Kaldenkirchen.
- The entire purchase process has to be repeated for each ticket.
The ticketing mechanism is therefore heavily segmented and this can affect the travellers experience in many ways. Firstly, for travel into Germany you need to buy more than just one ticket, one to get you to the first station in Germany, and then a separate VRR ticket to your destination. Secondly, it implies a requirement of the traveller to have a significant understanding of how German local transport networks are organised as the machine does not offer a list of place names to choose from, rather a list of tickets based on regional boundaries.
This approach to ticketing has also prevented fare evolution, in that an integrated fare structure has not been developed, and the implications of this stretch much further than Venlo itself.
Integrated Pricing as the Basis for Journey Promotion
Travelling to Venlo and Eindhoven from Germany can also be comparatively expensive to arrange online. This is because longer international intercity journeys to and from Venlo and Eindhoven are not fully integrated into the ticketing systems of Deutsche Bahn (or NS). To demonstrate this, let’s take a look at fares from Stuttgart to Venlo for a journey on December 15th 2010 on DB’s website. *The below findings were found when searching on November 10th 2010.
Starting with a single journey from Stuttgart to Kaldenkirchen, departing at 7am on December 15th 2010, the DB website returns this result.
Switch the destination to Venlo and the system returns this result;
We find that adding the short 5km journey costs an extra €36.20, because there are no special advance fares available for the cross border journey. For a visual representation of the 5km journey check Google maps for the journey here.
Searching to Eindhoven we find;
Again, there are no special fares available. We even find some of the options are not available to purchase, (these are the options listed as “Unbekannter Auslandstarif” or ‘Unknown Foreign Tariff’. This is because the fare system has not been fully integrated for this route.
By expanding the journey to cover Eindhoven we see that it costs €69 to get from Stuttgart to Kaldenkirchen (a journey of 450km) and a further €44.60 to reach Eindhoven (which is a journey of 70km).
What Matters to the Passenger?
People will use Public Transport if the proposed journey meets the individual’s criteria of Affordability, Efficiency and Accessibility. Despite the wide variety of reasons a journey is made, each person will consider their choice of transport mode using those 3 criteria. The car for example is extremely accessible, as is the journey (the Dutch government recently passed a bill enabling the construction of the A74, which will link the road networks of The Netherlands and Germany with a cross-border motorway, so the car is set to become more efficient and more accessible.)
Despite the realisation of the motorway route proving that there is a market for the transportation of goods and passengers across the border, by comparison, the equivalent rail journey is not as accessible. This affects the marketability of the route as educating clients on the service means overcoming the immediate complications of buying a simple ticket.
Passengers travelling to and from the South East of the Netherlands into Germany should not need to buy more than 1 ticket for their journey. They should not need to understand to a high level how the VRR organises their fare structures and they should be able to use a simple interface on the ticket machine which offers the right ticket at the best price removing all guesswork.
It is interesting to note that the NS ticket machine offers tickets for many North West cities in Germany including Berlin, but not many stations outside that area. It is not clear if passengers arriving at the station are aware of this fact and it’s not a service which is advertised anywhere on the machines or in the station. When I asked at the ticket desk how I could buy a ticket from Venlo to Cologne (listed as a destination on the NS ticket machine) the agent pointed me in the direction of the DB machine and asked if I would like help to buy a ticket, such is the recognized level of complexity.
Online we see that the fare structure is biased against travellers crossing the border and that they are not integrated in a way that represents accessibility and affordability. Potential passengers are not interested as to why this is. They look at the costs, the time and how to access the service and they will make a comparison with other modes of transport. If tickets are difficult to purchase or not available at all, few passengers will take the time to understand why and find ways around this problem.
So a new approach to ticketing is required to promote this route, and the conversation needs to ask;
- How can we make the journey easier?
- What would we like the customer experience to be?
- What are our ideals for this journey?
- How can we improve the journey experience by reducing the amount of knowledge a customer needs?
- How can we reduce the number of tickets required?
- How can we increase the value to the customer?
- How do we get to simple fares?
- How can we advertise the benefits?
Simple ideas could be;
- Offer free transit between Kaldenkirchen and Venlo.
- Include Venlo Station in the VRR network.
- Develop the DB ticket system to automatically include the zusatzticket to any purchase and ticket thus removing the need to buy twice.
The solutions don’t need to be technical!
Aiming For The Future
Below is a picture of the border taken from the perspective of road users. This is how simple and efficient it is by car, and so it should be for rail users as well. Railway companies need to get as close as they can to this scenario in order to effectively promote the route. Without proper integration of fares and ticket systems it is understandable why long distance intercity passenger trains on this route were withdrawn due to low ridership.