Two out of three commuters will work more at home after the coronacrisis. One in six passengers therefore less often picks up the train, is their expectation. And that has major consequences for the NS.
Last month, together with TU Delft – for the fourth time since corona – the NS conducted a major behavioural study among travellers. More than 23,000 people participated.
President of the NS, Marjan Rintel, finds the results gloomy mood. “Like everyone else, we didn‘t see this coming. We thought the crisis would be finished quickly, but it turned out to be longer than expected. This keeps the minds busy. We suffer tremendously as a company.”
The railways have existed for 180 years and according to the new leading woman, the NS is a vital company. “We have been asked, by the government, if we can continue driving, so that people who have to travel can do this too. We are in a lot of discussions with The Hague on how we can solve the deficits we currently have. Because we need support,” says Rintel.
Because of corona, the company is losing out of 4.7 billion euros in revenue in five years. “The government reimburses 93 percent of the costs minus revenues. That is a lot of money, but it creates a big gap of 200 million euros,” says Rintel. “After 2021 and 2022, we need new support from the Cabinet. Those conversations are running right now. It is expected that we will receive that support as well.”
The railways themselves are also looking for opportunities to keep the shortages in check. “We need to save costs by, for example, investing less and not paying bonuses. In 2025 we expect to be back at the 2019 level. A possible non-existence of the NS has never been discussed.”
However, it is thought about a smaller NS. “That means a smaller headquarters. And we have invested a lot in new trains before the pandemic, which means less maintenance will be needed in the coming years. We want to make sure everyone inside the NS keeps a job. Maybe in another place within the company. In addition, 2600 employees are also leaving the company because of their retirement and we are going to hire fewer new people, so we can shrink,” says Rintel.
For example, the NS will close 26 service desks, which will allow three hundred jobs. Is that really necessary? “Yes, many more people are looking for information or a ticket online. At the big stations we keep them open, but on the smaller stations they are superfluous. It’s not a coronaplan. It‘s been on the table for a long time. And all these people get a different job within the NS.”
The unions are not there about speaking. And even the negotiations on a new collective agreement rafts for the time being. The top woman doesn’t want to say too much about it: “We all needed time to get used to the new normal. We are a social and social employer. Within the range, we want to offer our colleagues a social wage. And I do not know any company that offers a work guarantee in this way.”
Commuters think to travel to work on average three days a week after corona, the study also shows. They call Tuesday and Thursday as favorite days to go to the office. About a third of respondents (in December) still travel by train. The biggest relapse is among recreational travelers. Of them, only a quarter grabs the train for a trip.
“ Anyone who needs the train must be transported,” says Rintel. “That is what the Cabinet asked us to do. It is up to the Cabinet to make statements about what is allowed and what is not. We adhere to the guidelines. Of course I prefer everyone to travel by train again, but it is not possible right now.”
Return to the train depends, for respondents, in particular, on measures and advice from the authorities, on vaccination and on train measures, they say. Only 8% of travellers feel that the vaccine is sufficient to return to travel without obstacles.
After corona, there will be a temporary revival of train travel, the researchers conclude. Especially socio-recreational travellers indicate that they are going to travel temporarily extra by train after corona, in order to catch up with previously unmade trips. This is about 30 percent of this group.
“ We also have to look through the crisis,” says Rintel. “In the media you often see what goes bad. But also look at what‘s going well: we’re busy with lots of great things, like the Green Deal for less passenger waste and good investments. In Germany, Angela Merkel has mentioned the importance of rail for climate targets. We hope that someone in the next cabinet will do the same.”