“Longer distance commuting by bicycle is perceived impossible by many. Not so for the Dutch. A combination of public transport and a bicycle is easy and very common in the Netherlands.”
Those were the lines I added to my very first video about cycling in the Netherlands exactly 5 years ago today on 9th January 2009.
It was not an easy topic I chose to explain for a first video. There are a lot of conditions that have to be met before multi-modal commuting becomes a viable transport option. This involves the availability of bicycles for daily use, parking possibilities both at home and at the stations, good and safe infrastructure and so on. But as I have tried to explain in the five years that have passed since this first video, those conditions are met in the Netherlands. Now even more so than five years ago because cycling is booming in many places in this country and a lot has been done to facilitate it.
Another milestone today: the video is the 300th video I publish. Two reasons to create a new version of the original “big commute in winter” video.
My workplace and the location of my home have not changed. Nor has the way I travel to work five years on. Some things have changed though. I use a different bicycle. I retired my “English” Raleigh bicycle that I used in Utrecht and replaced it with my Dutch Batavus that was a lot older but still is in a much better shape. I previously had this bike in my home town, but since I got a new bicycle there, I could move my 29 year old Batavus to Utrecht. And it lives in a different place than my previous bike did. Utrecht Central station (and surroundings) is undergoing a massive reconstruction and that meant my old bicycle parking facility will be reconstructed and expanded to house 12,500 bicycles in future. They have closed the facility some time ago for this reconstruction. The temporary facilities are in a location that would mean I would have to walk further and cycle further. So I moved to a municipal bicycle parking facility just outside the railway station. This still means I have to walk further, but my ride is considerably shorter. It seems strange to use a bicycle for the remaining ride of only 800 metres. But I need the bicycle in Utrecht for many more reasons than just to get to work. I visit family on my bicycle and I also use it in the lunch break to quickly get to where I need to be.
Since I first filmed my commute the main road between ‘s-Hertogenbosch and Utrecht was improved a lot. The difference between driving and using public transport is no longer so huge (driving used to take double or triple the time), but for this particular trip pubic transport still wins. It is impossible to drive the 50 kilometres in 50 minutes. Just getting out of and into the cities takes half that time. When the railways were building a new bridge last summer for which the train service had to be stopped for two weeks, I joined a colleague in his car and it took at least 30 minutes more every journey (so an hour a day extra). That also has to do with the fact that I chose my home close to the railway station. But it also shows that the Dutch really have the choice to use a transport option that suits them best. Nobody forces you into public transport or on your bike, but on the other hand circumstances do not force you to use a car either. All options have their own advantages and disadvantages, but they are all viable. You can really choose which is best for your own situation: a true freedom to travel as you wish. And as an added bonus: I am glad that with this commute of mine (that I have been doing like this for 18 years now) I get the daily physical exercise of 30 minutes as advised by the Dutch government and it doesn’t cost me any extra effort or time!
My daily commute to work in the winter darkness.
Combining the bicycle and the train in the Netherlands
Cycling to the station
Most train travelers, 43% of the daily 1.2 million Dutch train passengers, arrive at a station by bicycle. (This figure is increasing rapidly.) They park their bicycle at the station and depart by train to another train station. To park their bicycle they either use free bicycle racks or they go for one of the paid options.
Guarded bicycle parking facility (at about 100 stations): prices 2014 €1.25 per day / €13.50 per month / €103 per year.
Personal bicycle locker: €109 per year (available on almost all stations without guarded parking facility).
Cycling from the station
Almost 14% of the train travelers cycle from a train station to their end destination. There are two groups:
- People who have their own bike parked at the arrival station (like me, as I describe in this post. See prices above)
- People who rent a bicycle (either a public transport bicycle (OV-Fiets) at 250 locations, or a normal rental bike) OV-Fiets prices 2014 €3.15 per 24 hrs (max. 72 hrs) and an annual subscription fee of €10. Normal rental bikes cost about €7 to €10 per day.
Bringing your own bicycle on the train
In the Netherlands taking your own bicycle in the train is discouraged. Some things are simply not scalable. If almost half of the travelers in the train would be allowed to take their bike in the trains these trains would have to have many extra carriages for all those bicycles. Bringing a normal bicycle is therefore not permitted in rush hours (6:30-9:00 and 16:30-18:00), which makes commuting with your own bicycle nearly impossible. Folding bikes are an alternative solution, they can be taken as luggage. Outside rush hours, if the train is not too busy, nor an international train, a bicycle can be brought and you need a ticket for that bicycle. Day tickets for bikes are €6, regardless of the route.
Oh yes, and I recently broke the company bicycle pump… It was old, it wasn’t my fault! We got a new one, in stylish black. Only the old one is chained to the wall so it’s still there…