Friday, January 29, 2010

The Strippenkaart Conspiracy


Before my non-Dutch speaking friends get all hot and bothered about the title of this article, I must clarify, it is not about strippers!

It is instead about the scam in Amsterdam's public transportation known as the OV Chipkaart (Public Transportation Chip card).  Since last August it is mandatory to use the OV Chipkaart on all metro routes and probably next year it will be mandatory on all buses, trams and metros.  This means that the Strippenkaart (the current standard method of paying for public transport) will be a thing of the past in Amsterdam. 

The Strippenkaart which is basically a card with several numbered spaces, meant to represent the different zones of the city.  Zones, the units of measurement that were used to determine the costs of public transport.  It's basically like this.  Amsterdam (actually all the the Netherlands) was divided in a multitude of 'zones'.  Depending on what zone you originated in and which zone you were travelling in determined how many zones it cost you.  You always had to add one extra zone and the minimum was two zones (meaning if you were travelling in the same zone, it cost you 2 spaces on the card).  

Now I travel by metro to my office nearly every day.  From where I live, it is 3 zones to where my office is.  This means on the Strippenkaart, it costs me 4 zones.  Get the picture?  It's a tough system to figure out, mostly because nobody will really actually explain it to you.  But once you can actually get a handle on how it works, it is a good system. 
A strippenkaart came in various denominations, but by far the cheapest method was to buy the largest one, with 45 zones for 20.40 Euros (about $28.00).  So, doing the math, this means that traveling to my office costs on the Strippenkaart 1.80 Euros ($2.20).  Not bad, right?
So, in August comes the OV Chipkaart, so say goodbye Strippenkaart.  The OV Chipkaart is an electronic card that you 'load' with money and instead of paying by zone you pay only for the actual distance you travel.  So, no more throwaway zone.  Over the last two years the GVB (the public transport authority) has invested loads of money in an ad campaign to promote the OV Chipkaart and what was their buzzline - pay only for the actual distance you travel (with the inherent message, the OV Chipkaart is cheaper than the Strippenkaart system.

So, since August I have been using the OV Chipkaart and there are things I like about it.  It is easy to upload, you can upload via automatic machines at nearly every metro stop, every major station, many grocery stores, tobacco shops, post offices, etc..  If you left your house and forgot your STrippenkaart, you often had to walkout of your way to find a store where you could get a Strippenkaart (on a Sunday forget it, nothing's open), so then you only have the option of buying a 1 use ticket on the bus, tram or metro and paying full price (same trip costs more than 2 Euros this way).  So, there are definitely things I like.

Now I should say that since I travel 4 days per week, I do buy a monthly transport pass which means I pay one price for unlimited travel for the whole month (which is of course considerably cheaper).  With the OV Chipkaart, you can do the same thing.  

Now, not to take away from my original thought on the issue, but there have been news articles on the OV Chipkaart and that there have been some fare increases with the kilometer system, but of course Public Transport officials have insisted that this is the normal cost increases that happen each year and is not due to the OV Chipkaart system being more expensive then the Zone system.  And yes, while the distance might be a bit more costly, don't forget, you're not paying for the throw away zone anymore.  At it's worst, the OV chipkaart could add an increase of about 8% on the Strippenkaart.  The OV Chipkaart is economical, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Now like I said, I usually travel via a monthly pass, so I have not paid too much attention to the scuttlebutt about the OV Chipkaart.  The monthly cost is the same via Zones or Kilometers so I never really paid any mind to the whole thing.

As it happens, yesterday I went to work but forgot my wallet at home, and guess what, my monthly pass expired.  The machine at my stop was out of order and at the Central Station where I get on, there was a huge line of tourists, so I didn't want to wait.  It just so happens that at home we keep a couple spare OV Chipkaarts that we will give to people who visit us from out of town.  So, I remembered that I had one of these in my purse, so I thought screw the line, I'm going home and I will load up my monthly pass tomorrow.  So I go through the turnstile, bleep goes my card with the greeting "Goede Reis" (Have a good trip) and off I go.  I get out at my stop, get out the card to run past the scanner at the stop, bleep (when you "check out" it always tells you how much the trip cost.  So, I look at the screen and lo and behold, how much was it 2.36 Euros, ($3) nearly 1 Euro more than with a Strippenkaart.

That means that this trip cost me 25% more with an OV Chipkaart then with a Strippenkaart.   

Hmmmmmmmmm, anyone have Ralph Nader's phone number?

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