Train operator NS could introduce peak-hour fares in 2026 to tackle the growing problem of overcrowding on early morning trains.
Managing director Wouter Koolmees said that changing working patterns since the pandemic had led to more intense peaks and dips in passenger numbers.
“In the morning rush the occupancy rate is far too high, sometimes more than 100%. All the seats are taken and people have to stand.
“But across the whole day the occupancy is less than 30%. So for large parts of the day we’re displacing warm air.”
Koolmees told the Volkskrant he wants to bring in peak fares from 2026 because attempts to encourage commuters to travel at different times have been unsuccessful.
The idea is already being trialled on the lines between Eindhoven and The Hague and between Groningen and Utrecht, where off-peak trains are between 40% and 60% cheaper.
Overall the number of people travelling by train during the week is 20% lower than before the pandemic, but peak services are more congested, with Tuesday and Thursday mornings between 7.30am and 8.30am the busiest times.
Koolmees said: “I’m no psychologist, but it seems as if passengers think: if I’m going to the office, I want to make sure I’m at work at 8.30am. To show they really are working. But for us it’s a serious problem.
“You have three options: put down extra rails, which is expensive. You can put on more trains, but that puts up the price of tickets. The third option is tariff differentiation. That means it costs more to take a busy train and quieter trains are cheaper.”
Koolmees said NS’s problems had been compounded by shortages of staff and equipment, which forced it to cut the number of services by 13% last year.
More trains will be added to the timetable from September as new drivers and conductors complete their training, but Koolmees warned that the problem would not be fixed overnight.
“In September we’ll have enough conductors, in January we’ll have enough train drivers. But technicians are harder to find, everyone’s looking for technical staff.
“The impact is more immediate for us. If you want solar panels on your roof it’s a 12-month wait. If we don’t have engineers, it means there are fewer trains in service. And so passengers have to stand on a crowded train to Leeuwarden.”
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