The Dutch Rail System's Strange Peak-Load Pricing

I bought a round-trip ticket for a short train trip in the Netherlands, paying full price. Later I asked a colleague if there are discounts of any kind. Yes, she said, as long as you travel after 9 a.m. I assume this illustrates peak-load pricing, so I asked about traveling in the evening rush hour. It turns out the discount is good any time after 9 a.m.—there is no peak-load pricing for evening rush.

I know of no U.S. transit system that has peak-load pricing only in the a.m. Is this because our evening rush hours are more compact than in Europe? My colleague suggests that this is one more manifestation of the long and regular hours worked by most Americans, as compared to Europeans whose workdays often end at 3:30 or 4 p.m. It’s hard to think of another explanation. Despite these differences, the Dutch rail system will shortly be changing this, disallowing the discount between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.


Doesn't this, "the Dutch rail system will shortly be changing this, disallowing the discount between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.," negate your entire point?


The London Metro also has a morning-only peak pricing scheme, and the DC Metro has a variant on a morning-only scheme in that their daily unlimited passes are valid any time after 9:30am.

It does seem logical that morning hours would be more congested than evening hours, since it is far more likely that everyone would want to get to work between 8 and 9 than that everyone would want to get home in such a narrow period--people run errands after work, go out to dinner or to the movies, and so forth.


Same in the UK I think, who I believe have similar working hours to the U.S. so that explanation might not hold.

Chris Tilbury

Its the same in the UK and we don't have a siesta!

Evening rush hour is much more spread, and it's also at least partially optional. I used to drive, I don't think traffic is fun, so if I wasn't away before 4:30 I'd leave it until 7:00. People in London do stuff after work.

It's also more trouble to police than it's worth; the railways just load their venal gouging into the morning peak fare

Bas Hamer

if you assume that people work 8 hours a day, and you can assume that people work ~30 min from the train station then shifting the start is all that you need to do to shift the end of the work day.

you have 2 peaks, but if the correlation is strong enough then you only need to diffuse one to diffuse the other.

Adjusting only the start is also easier from an implementation standpoint; since it is the morning you have very few people on the train when the discount window stops (probably 5 am ish). And people on the train when teh window ends don't pose a problem as the cost goes down.

It makes sense from an implementation standpoint, and implementing the second peak will be much more troublesome as delays, people on long trips that overlap with the window are both far mroe common scenarios for the evening peak.


The elasticity of demand is greater in the evening, when the destination is home rather than work. It is more important for one to arrive before 9 than for one to depart soon after 5 (in a 9-5 workplace). Plus, in the office context, there seems to be much greater uniformity in arrival times as opposed to departure times.

Iljitsch van Beijnum

Workdays that end at 4? Yeah right. Maybe for jobs where they start really early, like construction. But office work mostly adheres to the proverbial 9-to-5 schedule.

It does seem to be the case that the peak isn't as high in the evenings in the Dutch trains as in the morning. An important part of this is probably students. They get a "free" public transport pass. Often classes start at 8.30 or 9, but they end at different times and students don't necessarily go home immediately after class.


The less people that travel in the morning, the less that return in the evening? Assuming most people who commute to work also commute home. Maybe.


Similar in the UK with the exception of "off peak" tickets not being valid for journeys out of London after 12 noon on a Friday which often catches people out

Jeremy Miles

The same situation used to exist (and still might) for some tickets and railcards in the UK. I always thought that it was to stop people commuting at a discount. Most people who travel after 9 are not commuting and are less likely to hit the evening rush hour.


Who are these Europeans whose workdays end at 3:30 or 4 pm? None I know, unless they have an explicit 35 hour contract and start at 8 am sharp... 8:30-5pm would be regular.


...never know how you guys come to the opinion that Old Europe has millions of people going home in time for afternoon tea. At least that has decidedly not been the worklife reality for anyone I know or worked with, neither in Great Britain nor in Germany. And those Copenhageners who pick up their kids from daycare at half past four started their workday at eight latest...


Indeed the evening rush is less dense than the morning rush in the netherlands. The reason that the railway comp will disallow the discpunt in the evening has to do with a new electroninc way of paying your fare. A consequence of of this new payment method is that a return ticket is now two times te price of a one-way ticket, instead of slighlty less. To avoid comuters buying a oneway ticket in the morning (without discount) and a oneway ticket in the evening ( with discount) the policy was changed.


Workdays that end at 3:30 or 4 pm are not that common here. Sorry, sounds like a bit of a clichee for me - "long and regular hours worked by most Americans"? Do you honestly think that's different for most Europeans?

Swedish system is more consequent, you get different prices based on how many people booked the specific you are interested in.


Well, this explains the ticket pricing that confused me so much! I recently took Thalys trains between Paris Nord and Amsterdam Centraal, and prices varied throughout the day. It actually wound up being a better value to take first class at a convenient time, go figure. Of course you can get cheap fares if you want to travel at really inconvenient times that eat your whole day... I decided I'd rather pay a few extra euro and use precious vacation time better.

Anal Editor

Some data i found suggest a *higher* peak load in the evening. Something I can attest to from personal experience. Might I suggest an alternative explanation, namely that the Dutch railway management is simply not all that smart? Circumstantial evidence does hint in that direction.

Correction: Dutch railways are gonna be charging top euro between 16:00 and 18:30 apparently, rather than 17:00 and 19:00.


I think you may want to ask when the first peak price was first implemented and then look at public opinion at the time.

Like many Europeans, the Dutch are well used to depending on train transport for their commutes. They tend to think of it as a right. Cities want to encourage that, to reduce other types of congestion. Introducing that first peak hike was no doubt contentious, and the public pushback was that commuters were being punished, potentially twice a day, for doing the right thing and taking the train. There was no doubt talk about switching to cars, and about voting for the Greens or whomever next time.

So the city compromised and introduced one hike, claiming that it was necessary for route upkeep, etc., and sold it on the fact that the ride back home was still cheaper, and no doubt promising there'd never be an evening price hike. Now that habit has made the first hike no longer contentious, they're changing the afternoon price, too, hoping it'll fly under the radar.

But that would just how local politics tends to work, of course, not an economist's explanation.



To me the explanation is awfully simple: regular commuters will need to be at work before 9am, hence mostly non-commuters will buy that ticket This doesn't magically reduce traffic during evening rush, but it allows for increasing non-morning-rush-hour traffic. Kind of the other way around. This pricing is actually well-known in other European countries, e.g. Germany and Switzerland.


In London they did the same thing on the Tube, peak fares were required up to 9.30am.

What was interesting is that there would be another "mini-rush hour" right on 9.30am. Folks who only had off-peak season tickets would arrive right on 9.30, and go through the gates as early as possible. I guess mostly due to the money savings, rail in London is quite expensive for most people.

A lot of businesses there have flexible work hours as well, which helps flatten the peak. My employer had no fixed hours, and most people generally started around 10am and stayed until after 6 or 7 pm.

An evening peak definitely did exist, but it's always easier to find something else to do. Go have a pint at the local pub, do some shopping, work late etc.

I live in Los Angeles now and have to drive past the Hollywood Bowl. In the summer if I don't leave work at 5pm sharp, the traffic is so bad I have to wait until after about 7.30pm before I leave the office.



Europeans commute back home earliest at 16:00 and until 18:00.

Well, in southern Europe it can be 14:00 - 15:00 and that's why
the rest of the continent is now paying their debts... =)