In addition to daily contact with passengers, NS maintains close relations with a wide variety of stakeholders. Thanks to this dialogue, which is based on trust, we are able to jointly seize opportunities and accept or mitigate risks at an early stage. These contacts also provide valuable expertise and ideas for our organisation and for better, more sustainable services for our passengers.
NS is a service-providing company that has a social role at the very heart of society. There is a great deal of interest in our organisation among the general public and elsewhere – passengers, media, politicians and other stakeholders. The ongoing dialogue with our stakeholders is crucial for NS.
We see our stakeholders as the people or groups who are affected by our actions and who have an effect on our organisation and services. NS is continuously monitoring who its stakeholders are. There can also be stakeholders who are on the scene temporarily for specific subjects – their input can be relevant and we therefore take them seriously.
The nature of our contacts with stakeholders is determined in some cases by legislation (ministries and regulatory authorities), in some cases by collaboration in the transport sector (carriers, ProRail) and in other cases by the public nature of our service (passengers, the media and interest groups). The Council for Sustainable Business discusses who the current and new stakeholders are every two years. The results are then presented to the Executive Board. In the intervening year, we organise dialogues with our stakeholders so that we can hear directly from them what they think of the course NS is taking. These dialogues took place in 2018 too.
NS is continually talking to the main stakeholders: organisations representing passengers and consumers, ProRail, provincial authorities, municipalities, franchise authorities, the shareholder, staff, the unions, other carriers, politicians, employee participation bodies, suppliers, NGOs and interest groups within society. We involve them closely and (increasingly often) as early as possible when choices have to be made that affect passengers.
We test ideas and listen to suggestions and criticism so that we can improve the course we take, our services and our products. As a result, we pick up external signs early on that we can then use in our considerations and decisions. The dialogues with our stakeholders take place at various levels in the organisation, with the Executive Board often being involved. This allows us to build up trust.
Working visits by stakeholders
Various stakeholders paid NS working visits in the past year. We organised a number of visits, both on request and on invitation, in which we informed stakeholders about our activities and let them experience all that goes on in our round-the-clock transport company. For example, new members of the Dutch parliament visited HSL South and travelled on the InterCity Direct train so that they could experience the train service, infrastructure and security systems first-hand with the drivers.
Representatives of the political parties also took a look behind the scenes at the refurbishment workshop in Haarlem and the NS training centre TechniekFabriek, and they did a shift with chief guards in the Safety & Service teams. State Secretary Van Veldhoven (Infrastructure and Water Management) paid an introductory visit to the railways in November. The State Secretary visited the renovated Utrecht Centraal station and rode on one of the ‘ten-minute trains’ (high-frequency service) from Eindhoven to Amsterdam. A working visit centred on the topic of safety was organised for the state secretary at Rotterdam Centraal station. These working visits let stakeholders get to know our company in all its facets while at the same time increasing their understanding of the various issues. That makes them better able to assess matters.
ProRail, Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management and LOCOV
NS holds frequent discussions with ProRail and the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management about topics such as joint projects, services and performance. In the national public transport users' forum LOCOV, NS regularly has discussions with broadly represented passengers’ and consumers’ organisations. This statutory forum holds formal meetings and handles requests for advice on various issues relevant to passengers.
We also organise numerous informal themed sessions and working visits to provide information and consult the members. Recommendations made by consumer organisations represented in LOCOV regularly result in us adjusting a decision. We consult participating organisations such as ROVER, Ieder(in), the cyclists’ association, the KBO union of senior citizens' organisations and ANWB (the Dutch automobile association) on topics that have a longer-term impact, for example the purchase of new rolling stock, changes to the timetable, accessibility and interruptions to the service.
In 2018, NS and the consumer organisations discussed the introduction of NS Flex at great length. With NS Flex, NS is introducing a new and flexible form of travel in which passengers can pay in arrears rather than having to have credit on their smartcard, for instance. The consumer organisations in LOCOV felt this was a welcome development in theory but recommended adding some features to NS Flex before launching it. There is a dilemma between the desire to introduce the benefits of NS Flex and waiting for all the additional features. NS feels it is very important to make travelling more convenient for passengers and to have innovation in the options. Furthermore, NS Flex is an addition to the current payment options rather than a replacement. After weighing up everything, NS decided to introduce NS Flex in the summer of 2018. We are continuing to talk to consumer organisations about the development of the service.
NS and ProRail also organise station visits. These visits help us see stations through the eyes of the passenger. We look at the concourse, the platforms and the journey information. Every visit reveals valuable points for attention, for example concerning the location for journey information or tactile guidance lines.
Collaboration in the transport sector
We work with partners in the transport sector, such as other carriers and ProRail, to ensure the optimum journey from door to door. This collaboration has acquired an increasingly prominent role at all levels of our organisation, not just operationally but also strategically and with an eye on the long-term vision that we drew up in the Mobility Alliance with a view to improving and optimising mobility within the Netherlands. The more intensive collaboration with sector partners is also improving customer satisfaction due to better operational statistics for aspects such as punctuality and the quality of connections, and due to improvements in the journey to and from the station.
We are currently developing our strategy for the period through to 2025: ‘We make the Netherlands accessible. For everyone.’ In that strategy, we stress the relevance of collaboration. The process of developing the strategy involved us talking to over 70 external stakeholders about NS’s role in the future of mobility in the Netherlands. One element in that is the collaboration with KLM in which we are investigating the options for improving international rail transport as a way of alleviating the pressure of passengers at Schiphol. This is in particular examining the routes to Berlin, London and Brussels.
NS, ANWB, RAI (the association for manufacturers and importers of vehicles) and Transport and Logistics Netherlands have joined forces since 2016 in the Mobility Alliance, which aims to keep the Netherlands moving. At the end of 2016, the alliance presented its vision entitled VOORUIT! (‘Forward!’), prompted by a shared sense of urgency because the Netherlands is becoming so congested as well as a realisation that there are opportunities to make mobility in the Netherlands cleaner, smarter and safer. The alliance now includes 23 bicycle, car, transport, public transport and business passenger organisations and its vision has been translated into concrete plans. In talks with Ms Van Nieuwenhuizen, the Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management, the alliance has explained its plans. It is now working on carrying out pilot projects in various areas.
Paying attention to the regions
There were talks in 2018 with the provincial executive members responsible for Traffic and Transport. The topics discussed included the InterCity to Berlin, Greater Amsterdam and specific services. The provincial executive members recognise NS’s distinct position in society compared with the local carriers in regional tenders but they see this mainly in specific cases and from a strategic and financial perspective. The members were positive about the attention NS is paying to the regions and the fact that we took the initiative to start a dialogue. They thought it was good for the relationship and a reason for further, more detailed talks.
Masterclass: First-Class Railway Knowledge
Civil servants and administrators in municipalities, provinces and urban regions regularly ask NS questions (via its regional boards) about the ‘railway world’. Who takes the decision to install a lift at the station? How can a municipality get a new station built? What role does NS have in the High-Frequency Rail Transport Programme? That is why at least twice a year, the NS regional boards and ProRail organise First-Class Railway Knowledge, a masterclass in which we share our knowledge and give local, provincial and regional government officials a better understanding of various aspects of the railway system (which can be rather complex). The masterclass is usually attended by 50 to 70 people. We ran three masterclasses in 2018: one on construction around the track and stations, one on level crossings and area development and a special one on ProRail’s draft Management Plan and NS’s draft Transport Plan.
Dilemmas in the discussions
NS shares the dilemmas it is facing in good time with stakeholders so that they have a better understanding of policy considerations and joint solutions can be found. We provide our stakeholders with a steady stream of feedback about their ideas and recommendations and the effect that the dialogue has had on NS policy, both in the regular discussions and in reports. We have to make a great many choices when drawing up a new timetable, for example. The aim is to have something many passengers will benefit from, although there will also inevitably be groups of passengers for whom any given choice has an adverse effect. We talk to consumer organisations about these dilemmas.
An example of a dilemma is the timetable during major events. When a big event is on at the RAI convention centre, demand for the service to and from Amsterdam RAI station is much higher. If these passengers are to be transported in comfort and safety, it may be necessary to have through Intercity trains make an extra stop at Amsterdam RAI station. In the past, not having such extra stops caused serious safety problems with the transfer and departure of passengers during the Huishoudbeurs home and interior exhibition. The metro is not a good enough alternative in these situations. An extra stop costs time and therefore requires adjustments to the timetable. There is not much room for such stops in the timetable. To adapt the timetable to the requirements, it was necessary this year to cancel the stop at Duivendrecht station during the Huishoudbeurs and Horecava exhibitions, despite the problems this caused for commuters to and from Duivendrecht. These regular passengers faced additional journey time. The consumer organisations criticised this. In response to this, NS has taken another look at the 2019 timetable. It seems to be possible to stop at both Duivendrecht and Amsterdam RAI when special events are on. This does depend on the final allocation of capacity. Based on advice from passengers’ organisation ROVER, the extra stops will only be made in 2019 during the opening hours for these events.
Regional case: fast changeovers for passengers in Friesland
In the 2018 timetable, the number of trains between Leeuwarden and Meppel in the province of Friesland was increased from three to four an hour in both directions. Most passengers benefited from this increase. However, for passengers to and from Grou-Jirnsum, Akkrum and Wolvega, this change meant a longer changeover for the Intercity trains to the Randstad conurbation. This dilemma was discussed in the North Netherlands Public Transport and Railway discussion body. This discussion body is where public sector organisations, passenger organisations and carriers make agreements about such matters as rail and bus transport, station development and innovation in public transport. In September 2018, the Public Transport and Railway discussion body asked NS to change the timetable in Friesland so as to improve the changeover for passengers travelling to or from Friesland. NS and ProRail aim to implement this change in 2019.
International case: Berlin
17 September 2018 saw the departure from Amsterdam Centraal station of a symbolic faster Intercity train to Berlin, seen off by State Secretary Van Veldhoven. This one-off service was half an hour faster because it did not stop anywhere else in the Netherlands. NS wants the journey time from Amsterdam to Berlin to be two hours shorter, in order to make the train a genuine alternative to the plane. To achieve this, NS is seeking collaboration with Deutsche Bahn, governmental authorities in the Netherlands and Germany, and Brussels.
NS then spent two days in Berlin holding further talks with representatives and directors of more than ten relevant bodies and governments, including the European Commission, the German Federal Ministry of Transport, the administrations of the German state of Lower Saxony and the city of Berlin, and Deutsche Bahn. All parties agree that it is time the Amsterdam-Berlin route was improved to give passengers a better product with shorter journey times and a greater level of comfort. Mr Ferlemann of the Federal Ministry also said that he wanted to see improvements soon in the existing route and promised infrastructure upgrades would be speeded up. Speaking on behalf of the European Commission, Elisabeth Werner said that capital-to-capital connections are a priority in Europe and that this particular connection could be the perfect showcase.
It should become clear in the next six months how the route could become faster in the short term – and what infrastructure investments are required in the Netherlands and Germany in order to make significant reductions in the journey time and obtain a train connection that offers a valid alternative to flights between the two cities in terms of journey time and comfort.
Consultations with the trade unions
NS attaches great importance to good relations with the trade unions. In 2018, the discussions mainly concerned implementation of the agreements in the 2017-2020 collective labour agreement and the resulting HR policy. NS and the trade unions also discussed the implementation of the social plan and the pension plan.
Dialogues with the stakeholders
In addition to our regular contacts with stakeholders about day-to-day matters, we are also keen to talk to them about opportunities, threats and trends in the medium term. That is why NS organises national-level meetings with a wide range of stakeholders about our social role and on specific themes where we have an impact. These are themes that concern our stakeholders or NS itself. This lets us facilitate dialogue not only between stakeholders and NS, but also among the stakeholders themselves. This regularly leads to a better understanding of one another’s interests and valuable constructive criticism and ideas for NS.
The future for NS
In April 2018, NS organised a central stakeholder dialogue session with 70 organisations that NS has contacts with. The idea was to share thoughts about ‘the NS of the future; the future for NS’. Consumer organisations, ProRail and trade unions attended this event, along with other organisations. The Executive Board spoke to those present about the trends and developments that are relevant to the future of mobility in the Netherlands. Examples are the demographic developments with growth in the Randstad conurbation and population decline in other more rural areas, IT, changes in the use of data and innovations such as self-driving cars. A shared vision emerged of the challenge facing all of us to keep the Netherlands accessible and a pleasant place to live.
In June, NS organised an inspirational dinner on ‘Corporate social responsibility and entrepreneurial innovation'. These issues are not unique to NS; they are relevant to other organisations too. The choices that public authorities make are also a determining factor in how accessible the Netherlands is now and in the future. With thirty CEOs and directors attending along with the NS Executive Board and Supervisory Board, the topics discussed included business models, innovation, data, the political context, the NS ‘signature’ and other social themes. The recommendations that NS received during the evening will be taken on board in the development of a strategy for the future.
Scientific publications and series of seminars
The agenda for the years ahead includes various policy developments, such as the Vision for the Future of Public Transport, the Long-Term Rail Agenda, the implementation of the Fourth EU Railway Package and choices in market regulation. There are also independent developments that affect the mobility of the future. That is why NS, ProRail and the public transport companies GVB, HTM and RET have taken the initiative for a series of seminars and publications. The aim of this is to mobilise the best scientific knowledge and practical experience available internationally for the benefit of policy in the Netherlands. This initiative is expected to make a contribution not so much through the policy conclusions themselves as through the substance of the underlying analyses and factors to be considered. Professors Bert van Wee (Delft University of Technology) and Maarten Jansen (Vienna University) are responsible for the content. See also www.detoekomstopderails.nl. NS will take the results of the seminars on board in the development of a strategy for the future.