Sunday, August 29, 2010

Eight Tips Series: Using Public Transport

Photo: Jop Quirindongo
The public transport system in the Netherlands is in general good. There are buses, trams, metros and trains to help you make your way across the length and breadth of this small nation. But what do I know? I grew up with British Rail so anything seems good in comparison.

1. Don't Bother with the Strippenkaart
It is being phased out (and already obsolete in some of the bigger cities). It is one of the most convoluted elements about travelling on public transport in the Netherlands. You need to know how many zones you are travelling (and then add one, double it, half it and guess which number I first thought of) to pre-stamp the paper strip; if you can even find it again after your last journey and it isn't in at least two pieces because you have to continually fold it to get it in your purse/wallet/handbag/pocket. Thankfully it is a dying breed.

2. Allow Plenty of Time
A 15 minute car journey will take you at least an hour with public transport. Enough said.

3. Learn Useful Local Phrases
If you are going to regularly travel by train, bus, tram or metro it would be handy if you learned how to say "Please could you move your bag from that seat so I can sit down." The answer will be rolling eyes, tutting or even "Nee," so be sure to take an assertiveness training course before ditching your car for public transport.

4. Accept You are Not Special
Being pregnant and the size of a baby elephant is no reason to expect anyone to give up their seat for you. Being old is something you need to live with and again no reason to object to standing for your entire journey. If you are feeling faint this is also a poor excuse to ask for a seat (but no worries because the sheer volume of the crowd will keep you upright). That healthy looking teenager blaring on his mobile phone and sharing the noise on his MP3 player with the entire carriage needs that seat more than you ever could.

5. Bear in Mind the Season You are Travelling in
If it is autumn there could be the wrong type of leaves on the tracks (nope, not only England has the wrong leaves) and in winter, snow and ice stop any kind of movement on the rail tracks and tram lines. Oh and the roads of course. If it is icy you need to cycle or sled to work/school/shops.

6. Hold On
Bus drivers, particularly those taking you down a motorway to your intended destination, do not factor in  that you as a passenger are without a seatbelt or are standing with little or no support in the aisle because the bus is full. Full twice over in fact. Note that you can also be upended by a tram pulling into a tram stop. Hold on tight.

7. Listen
If you hear a tram bell - MOVE OUT OF THE WAY. A tram will not stop or slow down for you. If you refuse to move you and/or your bike will end up wrapped around the front end of the tram and much screaming and shouting in Dutch will ensue. The bell means business so listen out for it.

Parking a bike in the Netherlands is easier than riding one
8. Buy a Bike
To be honest, if the journey you are regularly undertaking is less than 10km away, buying a bike may be your best option. Bikes are cheap, cycle lanes and parking are aplenty and routes are well signposted. Cycling with the Dutch is not without risk of course... but that's a topic for another day.

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