Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Amsterdam: First Glance, Part II

Public Transport

Public transport in Amsterdam is, on the whole, quite good. Arrival times are published on a per-station basis. In Singapore, they only publish bus frequencies, which are really rough guidelines. Sometimes the frequency metric is meaningful, often-times, it's complete bollocks.

Here, they have ETA's (estimated time of arrival) for each train throughout the day, published in a very nice format. This is extremely handy, and I much prefer it to Singapore's unwieldy, non-committal, and of-times plain inaccurate approach.

But public transport here is extremely heterogenous.

There are trains, there are metros (which are basically trains, but if you call them that you'll completely confuse people), and then there are trams, which run on metro tracks (and often have overlapping routes), and are, in essence, a subset of the metro, but with the exception that they ply downtown streets, which neither the metro nor the trains do.

Confused yet?

The word train is used to connote inter-city trains. So you don't take a train to Amstelveen (a satellite city of Amsterdam), you take a metro. You take a train to Utrecth (a neighbouring city), but you can also take a metro, because some metros actually go to neighbouring cities. They metro and trains run on the same gauge, they look similar, have overlapping routes, but are, at least in terms of nomenclature, completely different.

The trams ply city roads within Amsterdam-proper. They have tracks laid down major roads in the city, and they merrily roll by with a quiet electric hum.

The metro links far corners of the city, and basically link up the disparate parts of metropolitan Amsterdam. They also sometimes go to neighbouring cities, like in the example above. But they're not trains.

Confusing enough for you?

They try, though. There's a unified RFID prepaid payment mechanism called OV-chipkaart. You top it up with money, and spend it through your tram/train/metro rides. The only thing is, not all the stations are closed off. Some train stations won't allow you to exit if you don't tap. Some don't seem to care, with permanently open gantries. So you can forget to tap in, then be on your merry way out of one of the stations that are secured, and then get stuck.

It's just asking for people to take free rides, and I did that initially when I didn't know how to make sense of any of it, even though I was wielding a bona fide OV-chipkaart. Even when you have made sense of it, they have different sets of tapping machines, some for inter-city, some for metro, and tapping the wrong one can be very punitive in terms of the money they deduct from your card.

It's all over the place. Just remember, when in doubt, don't pay.

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I write essays in my spare time on things that are important to me. The ones that I feel are any good, or make any sense, I put them up here. :)