State Sec. orders NS to reconsider rush hour charge, seek alternatives
The NS must reconsider its controversial rush hour charge and come up with alternatives, said outgoing State Secretary Vivianne Heijnen (Infrastructure). An external party will assess NS’s alternatives. In the future, NS may also only introduce new rates with the approval of the Cabinet and the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of the Dutch parliament. And there will be no rush hour tax at all before 2026. Heijnen will soon elaborate on tightening the rules in a letter to parliament.
Heijnen is introducing these measures after a storm of criticism of NS’s plans. According to the Dutch railway company, it is necessary to make travel more expensive during rush hour because otherwise, trains will become far too crowded. “Rate differentiation,” different prices for different times, can work well, according to Heijnen. But then, for example, cheaper tickets at quieter times should be an option.
However, the Tweede Kamer is not yet convinced that a more expensive train ticket during rush hour is really off the table, nor that the Kamer will have the final say. Various parties fear that more expensive tickets remain possible as long as Heijnen leaves the door ajar for rate differentiation. SP parliamentarian Mahir Alkaya wants it to be made impossible in the concession, the contract that the Cabinet concludes with NS. Steineke van der Graaf (ChristenUnie) also has major questions about how the Kamer’s right to the last word will be given legal shape.
NS CEO Wouter Koolmees said on Monday during a briefing in the Tweede Kamer that he still supports the rush hour charge but that travelers who really must travel during rush hour could receive compensation. NS wants to discuss this with politicians and employers. According to Koolmees, train tickets will actually become cheaper for most: the rush hour charge can reduce prices outside peak hours by a sixth. According to Koolmees, it is mainly a matter of overdue maintenance: a large part of previous cost increases could not be passed on due to agreements with the Cabinet in the concession.
The current concession for NS on the main rail network expires at the end of next year. That is why politicians are now discussing what the agreements with the NS should look like from 2025 to 2033. In the current concession, NS still has to pay for the use of the main rail network. In the next one, the company will receive extra money. RTL Nieuws reported on Monday that NS will receive 13 million euros annually and will no longer have to pay almost 90 million euros.
Reporting by ANP