In addition to daily contact with passengers, NS maintains close relations with many different 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 talks 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 performs 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 us.
Our stakeholders are the people or groups who are affected by our actions and who, in turn, influence our organisation and services. NS is continuously monitoring who its stakeholders are. The nature of our contacts with stakeholders is determined in some cases by legislation (government 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). There can also be stakeholders who are on the scene temporarily for specific subjects – their input can be relevant and we take it seriously. We organise sessions with stakeholders on specific themes or promote a broad stakeholder dialogue on the course of NS. Such sessions were also held in 2019.
Our main stakeholders are organisations representing passengers and consumers, ProRail, provincial authorities, municipal authorities, franchise authorities, the shareholder, our employees, trade 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 of the company, 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 within the organisation, with the Executive Board often being involved. This enables us to build up trust.
Working visits by stakeholders
In 2019 as in previous years, 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. Members of the Lower House of Dutch Parliament visited new stations, for instance to see for themselves how the waste sorting and recycling processes work in practice. Political party representatives had a look behind the scenes at NS Opleidingen in Amersfoort and got a taste of the training programmes our Safety & Service teams complete to de-escalate aggressive behaviour in public transport. In March 2019, Minister for the Environment and Housing Van Veldhoven visited NS within the context of International Women's Day. On 8 October 2019, Finance Minister Hoekstra made a working visit to the new bicycle parking facility and Utrecht CS. Through these working visits, policy makers and politicians get to know our company in all its facets and increase their understanding of the various issues and solutions. That improves their ability to arrive at a balanced assessment of matters.
ProRail, Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management and LOCOV
NS holds frequently consults 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 consults with broadly represented passengers’ and consumers’ organisations. This statutory forum holds formal meetings and handles requests for advice on issues relevant to passengers.
We also organise 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 passengers' association ROVER, Ieder(in), the Dutch Cyclists’ Union, the KBO union of senior citizens' organisations and ANWB (the Dutch automobile association) on topics that have a longer-term impact, such as the purchase of new rolling stock, changes to the timetable, accessibility and withdrawals from service.
In 2019, NS and the consumer organisations held extensive discussions about modifications to the range of season tickets available at NS. They also discussed adaptations to the timetable in the event of adverse weather conditions. In response to an investigation requested by ROVER, more flexibility is ensured in the implementation of regional adaptations to the timetable. Another important point for discussion within LOCOV were the works conducted in Leiden. After completion of those works, we sat down with the consumer organisations to review the process and share the lessons learned.
NS and ProRail organised station visits, as in previous years, which help us see our 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 ideal 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 for our passengers from door to door. That collaboration features prominently at all levels of our organisation, in terms of strategy as well as operations, 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. Our intensive collaboration with sector partners is also improving customer satisfaction thanks to better operational statistics for aspects such as punctuality and the quality of connections, and to improvements in the journey to and from the station.
An important theme during 2018 and 2019 was the development of our strategy for the period up to 2025: ‘Keeping the Netherlands accessible in a sustainable manner - for everyone.’ In that strategy, we stress the relevance of collaboration. The process of developing the strategy involved us talking in 2018 and 2019 with over 70 external stakeholders about NS’s role in the future of mobility in the Netherlands. This also covers our collaboration with KLM, and opportunities to use international trains rather than aeroplanes for relatively short distances. This concerns, for example, the routes to Berlin, London and Brussels.
NS, ANWB, RAI (the association for manufacturers and importers of vehicles), Transport and Logistics Netherlands and other parties in the mobility sector have joined forces since 2016 in the Mobility Alliance, which aims to keep the Netherlands moving. This permanent collaboration was prompted by a shared sense of urgency because the Netherlands is becoming overly congested, as well as by a realisation that there are opportunities to make mobility in the Netherlands cleaner, smarter and safer. The Mobility Alliance now includes 25 bicycle, car, transport, public transport and business passenger organisations and its original vision has been formulated in more detail. In June 2019, the alliance presented the Mobility Delta Plan to Minister for the Environment and Housing Van Veldhoven and Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management Van Nieuwenhuizen. The plan, which addresses mobility in an integrated fashion, presents solution strategies that will help to keep the Netherlands accessible over the period up to 2030, despite continuing growth in road traffic and public transport. It also includes an investment agenda in support of this effort. One crucial element in the Mobility Delta Plan is freedom of choice and flexibility in travel behaviour, which is being tested in pilots with 'paying for usage' systems.
Vision for the future of public transport up to 2040
If congestion in the Netherlands is to remain manageable, ProRail, passengers' organisations and other stakeholders will have to continue their mutual dialogue. This is why NS also took part this year in elaborating the ‘Toekomstbeeld OV 2040’ (Vision for the Future of Public Transport up to 2040). In 2019, the participants jointly finalised the contours of this vision and started formulating the details of its implementation. NS is making a major contribution to the details of the network and hubs, and is discussing potential solutions and dilemmas in this regard from a regional, national and international perspective. As regards 2020, it is important for us to jointly formulate a development agenda that includes decision-making details for investments in the Multi-annual Programme for Infrastructure, Space and Transport (MIRT) and the Mobility Fund (which has succeeded the Infrastructure Fund).
A focus on regions
NS serves all parts of the Netherlands: both densely populated and sparsely populated areas, the Randstad conurbation and rural regions, and all twelve provinces. Following the provincial elections in 2019, our contacts with mobility and spatial policy administrators in the provincial executives have focused on getting to know one another and sharing plans and wishes. The actual talks are about the development of the timetable and the railway / public transport infrastructure, and about the role of the railways in accessibility and mobility issues. Other topics that attract a great deal of attention and interest are hub development, the funding of public transport, international railway connections and a better spread of passengers during peak times. Administrators are facing huge tasks and complex challenges, not least the nitrogen crisis, and are aware of NS's capacity to contribute to solving these issues. Hence, NS is keen to intensify its collaboration with provincial and regional authorities through the joint development of plans and implementation of measures.
Less crowding at peak times following adaptation of lecture times
In order to ensure sustainable accessibility for the Heyendaal campus of Nijmegen's Radboud University and eventually giving it zero-CO2 emission status, the 'Sustainable Accessibility for Heyendaal' project group was established in 2016. Its members include Radboud University Nijmegen, HAN University of Applied Sciences, the Nijmegen Regional Training Centre, Radboudumc, ARRIVA, NS, Connexxion, the municipality of Nijmegen, the province of Gelderland, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management and student union AKKU. Besides the project group there is an advisory board for consultation with members of the provincial executive, aldermen and the executive boards of the institutions and public transport companies involved.
To reduce crowding during the morning peak hour, in 2018 HAN University of Applied Sciences and Radboud University changed the start of their morning lectures by 15 minutes: at Radboud University lectures now start 15 minutes earlier, at 8.30, while at HAN University of Applied Sciences they start 15 minutes later, at 9.00. Lessons at the Nijmegen Regional Training Centre start at 8.30 as before. These arrangements have caused traffic to spread more evenly, levelling off traffic intensity at peak times and improving the flow of traffic. The results of the changes were published in 2019, with the number of rail passengers at 8.15 shown to have decreased by an average 22%. Buses saw the number of passengers at the peak moment fall by 10%. The figures also show that the reduction of student numbers at peak times is permanent, and that road and railway traffic has come to be more evenly spread. As such, the measure has a highly favourable effect on the flows in various different modes of travel.
Dilemmas in the discussions
NS shares the dilemmas it is facing with stakeholders in good time, 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 regular discussions and thematic sessions and in reports. Examples include adaptations to our product portfolio or in compiling new timetables. The aim is that passengers overall should benefit from this, although there will inevitably be passengers for whom any given choice has an adverse effect. We talk to consumer organisations about these dilemmas.
LOCOV case: season ticket update
One such dilemma was associated with our plans to adapt the range of season tickets that we offer. NS Flex is to become the standard for most season tickets, and the number of different types of season tickets will be halved, from 22 to 11. To increase seat availability on our trains at peak times, NS has decided to terminate the 40% discount for passengers during the afternoon peak with effect from 2021. This decision was the result of an intensive process of discussions with the consumer organisations united in LOCOV, which included an official advisory procedure. The consumer organisations advised us to change our plans in quite a few respects. NS then faced a dilemma: we wanted to simplify the range of season tickets on offer, but we also wanted to listen carefully to the advice we received from the consumer organisations. In the end, that made us decide to withdraw or modify part of our original proposals.
NS decided that customers with a Dal Voordeel season ticket and the Voordeelurenabonnement (without the afternoon peak discount in future) should continue travelling with Pre-Paid Travel. As a result, 1.5 million customers will not automatically transfer to NS Flex compared with the original request for advice, but will be able to continue Pre-Paid Travel using their existing season tickets (with only the terms and conditions being amended).
The consumer organisations also advised us to allow passengers to buy more travel days than we had proposed, and to retain the option of a paper version. In response to this advice, NS decided to retain the Keuzedagen for our existing customers who have this option. This means both that the paper version will be retained and that our existing customers retain their existing annual number of elective days (no longer during the afternoon peak though). NS does intend however to simplify the Keuzedagen, which is why they can now be used throughout the year.
NS has also changed a number of prices, which includes a lower price for NS Flex.
Case: Noord-Holland timetable
Due to the concentration of people who work in Amsterdam and live in the provinces, the transport market in the province of Noord-Holland has a strong focus on Amsterdam and very high peak hour volumes. Trains in that area are crowded during peak hours and quiet outside peak hours. In addition, following the introduction of the ultra-high frequency train between Amsterdam and Alkmaar, train-bus transfer times in Hoorn and Beverwijk and for the ferry to Texel have become too long. At the end of 2018, as part of its plans to optimise the timetable in 2022, NS engaged in a dialogue with regional municipalities and the province of Noord-Holland so as to improve the timetable and increase train usage. What is characteristic of this process is that we set out designing our new timetable on the basis of an analysis of the interests and standpoints involved and that we gathered feedback from the region through multiple administrative work sessions and one meeting with administrators. During the work sessions we also shared data with players in the region to make sure that the consultation would be taking place among equal parties. The process will be finalised in April 2020.
ERTMS stands for the European Rail Traffic Management System, which is a new rail safety system. The European Commission has selected ERTMS to replace all the current systems and drive innovation on the track through digitalisation. The implementation of ERTMS in the Netherlands is being prepared in a partnership between the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, NS, other carriers and ProRail. ERTMS offers opportunities for NS and for our passengers. The railways will become safer, allow faster trains and accommodate more trains; passenger information will always be up to date and it will be easier for international trains to travel in other countries. As part of this programme, NS is facing the challenge of:
converting 504 train sets to ERTMS;
upgrading 197 train sets to a more recent ERTMS version;
equipping new rolling stock series such as SNG and (in future) ICNG with ERTMS;
preparing maintenance centres for the maintenance of rolling stock fitted with ERTMS;
training 3,000 train drivers;
adapting ICT systems.
What is more, NS will have to tackle these challenges with as little inconvenience for passengers as possible. ProRail aims to have installed ERTMS on the busiest routes by 2030. The Betuwe Line, the Hanse Line and the Amsterdam-Utrecht route have already been equipped with ERTMS, and NS is also already using it on HSL South.
Socially relevant case: passengers with dementia in public transport
In the years ahead, both NS employees and passengers will be increasingly confronted with passengers who suffer from dementia. Due to the ageing population, the number of people with dementia will rise from 280,000 today to nearly half a million by 2040. Of all people with dementia, 70% are living at home and still enjoy a day out. However, they experience all sorts of practical problems in the public transport system, such as checking in using the OV-chipkaart, using the check-in and check-out gates at the station or finding the right platform.
NS and the 'Samen dementievriendelijk' ('Joining forces for a dementia-friendly society') programme, an initiative launched by Alzheimer Nederland, PGGM and the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport as part of the Dementia Delta Plan, have tried to find a way of focusing attention on passengers with dementia in public transport. The initiative developed into a public campaign combined with an online training programme for passengers and employees. The training programme for employees incorporates real-life situations in the train and at the station, suggested and presented by colleagues. By learning to recognise signs of dementia, NS employees can help people with dementia find their way in public transport in a few simple steps, so that these passengers can continue their journey free from stress.
Gerjoke Wilmink, director of Alzheimer Nederland: 'We have joined NS in an effort to make travelling by train a bit easier for people with dementia. After all, for these people life is difficult enough as it is. NS is a wonderful example for other organisations whose customers may have dementia. In this way we can make all sectors of society more dementia-friendly and allow people with dementia to remain socially active for as long as possible.'
Consultations with the trade unions
NS attaches great importance to good relations with the trade unions. In 2019, the discussions mainly concerned implementation of the agreements in the 2017-2020 collective labour agreement and the resulting HR policy. For example, NS and the unions discussed the implementation of the social plan, sickness absence and sustainable employment.