How the Netherlands got rid of the hyper-peak | Keolis
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Easing rush hour crowding in the Netherlands' public transportation

How the Netherlands got rid of the hyper-peak | Keolis
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PostedJUN. 7, 2022
Words byKeolis
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In order to ease rush-hour overcrowding during the Covid-19 crisis, Dutch Public Transport operators intensified their cooperation with stakeholders in education on the national, regional and local levels and Keolis Nederland spearheaded the national effort.

“Never waste a good crisis!”  

Winston Churchill said, “Never waste a good crisis!”. During the Covid-19 crisis, the Netherlands decided to tackle the issue of overcrowding in public transport during rush hour, paying particular attention to the hyper-peak.  Operators had previously urged educational facilities to help ease the pressure on public transport systems by staggering the hours that courses start and finish, but it only yielded modest results.

The Covid-19 crisis radically changed this dynamic, and during its early phase staggering became compulsory. As the crisis abated, the obligations of educational facilities became more voluntary; by that time a remarkable cultural change had taken place and it had become routine for local PT operators and educational facilities to talk, communicate and coordinate. And in many cases, it became logical for educational facilities to make efforts to help ease overcrowding. More importantly, national and regional authorities embraced this cultural change and became driving forces in maintaining efforts to stagger demand following the crisis. 

The hyper-peak: a source of trouble 

Overcrowding during rush hour has always been a cause of cost and dissatisfaction. It provokes substantial operational cost, disruption, and a loss of comfort for passengers. During the busiest part of rush hour or the “hyper-peak”, these issues are exacerbated.  

Tackling the overcrowding issue became unavoidable during the Covid-19 crisis 

It became inevitable for public transport operators to reach out to stakeholders concerning the effort to tackle overcrowding during the first phase of the crisis.  Whereas many commuters started working from home, many students continued to travel to educational facilities in large numbers. It was therefore logical to focus on partnering with the educational sector to avoid overcrowding. 

Young man tagging his ticket at the entrance of a bus

A national working group with all stakeholders was established 

At the beginning of 2020, a working group was established on the national level that was comprised of representatives from the Ministries of Education and Transport, public transport operators and representative bodies of Education ranging from high schools to universities. Keolis Netherlands led the negotiations and was entrusted with coordinating the input on behalf of the Dutch Public Transport Operators. 

A binding national framework agreement was quickly put into place 

The working group reached a binding national framework agreement endorsed by the government with three guiding principles: 

- Coordination between PT operators and educational actors and efforts by education to ease overcrowding became compulsory on the regional and local level,

- Regional and local tailor-made deals could be struck, taking into account local conditions,

- In case of failure to reach an agreement, educational actors were obligated to apply a staggering scheme specified in the national framework agreement.

The (lasting) effects 

Throughout 2020 and 2021, the effects of working from the home and the reinforced partnership with the education sector yielded remarkable results: the hyper-peaks disappeared entirely, and rush hour became manageable. Beyond achieving more cost-effectiveness, in some cases financial means were reoriented from the peak to the off-peak, resulting in a better PT offer throughout the day. Good examples of this can be found in the Keolis Netherlands concession of Utrecht. Overall, disruptions due to overcrowding became less common and passenger comfort during rush hour increased. 

Unfortunately, demand is up in some places due to the easing of Covid-19 measures and the “return to normal”, meaning that the hyper-peak may also reappear. However, although a significant number of educational facilities continue to stagger start and end times, albeit voluntarily, others yet have reverted back. 

Tackling the hyper-peak remains an important issue  

Fortunately, on both the national and regional levels, many stakeholders have embraced best practices during the Covid-19 crisis and are actively working on creating lasting post-Covid-19 frameworks. However, considering the overwhelming task of education to work through the backlog created during the Covid-19 crisis, there is currently no political appetite to make it mandatory to stagger the times at which classes start and end. There is also a broad understanding that beyond education, the old and new hyper-peaks (Tuesdays and Thursdays have become busier than other working days post-crisis) caused by commuting will also need to be tackled. Considering the more fragmented nature of stakeholders in the commercial and public sector, this is a complex task for which policies are currently being developed by the Ministry of Transport and several regional authorities. 

Maintaining the effort

The hyper-peak:  a fact of life? Keolis Netherlands, and the other Dutch operators, have demonstrated that constructive cooperation can change this reality. However, the Dutch example also shows that a transition from a mandatory to a voluntary setting can endanger prior achievements.

Today there is a broad movement that includes stakeholders and authorities, to work towards sustainable mitigation efforts against the hyper-peak. The conversation is ongoing and “hyper-peak mitigation” has now entered the vernacular.

These types of agreements for more sustainable mobility may work in many countries around the world, as long as they adapt to local requirements and are built on strong relationships of trust and mutual understanding between public transport operators, stakeholders, and authorities.

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