Transport in Amsterdam

Amsterdam, and Holland, has extensive transit options for passengers. As with Denmark, there is a single national agency that manages ticketing and route information. This makes it easier to travel across the entire network, but there is little accommodation for non-Dutch travelers.

Outside of Amsterdam, it is impossible to buy tickets without a Dutch bank card or coins. However, at the stations I visited, while the machines accepted coins, there were no change machines to give you change. So if you had a €10 note, there was no way to convert that to coins for use in the machine. This was one of the few places I traveled to that didn’t have change machines where change was required. The train station toilets also require change but have no change machines. This is the only Western country that I’ve been to where change machines didn’t accompany these coin operated areas. It was rather surprising.

Holland does offer a smart card that is usable on all transport in the entire country. When you tap in, it reserves a certain amount depending the mode ($4 for trams, $20 for trains), so you have to have at least the “boarding fare” on your card, even if your final journey is less than that. For instance, I traveled from Amsterdam to Houten, which costs around €9. I had to have €29 on the card for a round trip, even though it only cost €18 to make the journey. I’m curious why this was the option chosen as it requires much more fare placed on the card than is actually necessary. It also seems impossible to use the card to buy a paper/e-ticket – in other words, I could not buy a round trip ticket to Houten with the money on the card.

Further, the card can be purchased at machines, but again, require Dutch bank cards, coins, or credit cards that have PINs if you purchase it outside of Amsterdam. If your card doesn’t have a PIN, you cannot use these machines. You can use bills and coins on trams to reload your card, but not cards.

On the trams, you enter through a set of doors, and exit through another set. The entrance doors are near the driver and another staff member from whom you can buy tickets or top up your cards. There are no ticket machines at the stops. It took a long time to figure that out. It wasn’t until after I rode the trams a couple times did I realize that these staff members were there and what their role was. They also serve to drive the trams. The driver takes the tram from one end of the line to the other, then they switch roles and the driver becomes the ticket person and the other drives it back. Seems like a good way to give people rest.

Overall, once you figure out the fare system, you can work within it. However, information about it is sparse. Also, the lack of accommodation for non-Dutch cards is really odd, particularly given how many foreigners travel to Holland.

As a pedestrian, I felt particularly unsafe in central Amsterdam. It was an odd experience because it was due to the bicyclists, not trams or autos. Cyclists ride very fast and act like auto drivers do in the US – they own the road and everyone has to watch out for them. The just ring their bells and you have to get out of the way or get hit and scowled at. It was a pretty odd experience, for sure.