August 15, 2014

Eight Ways to Catch the Train - None by Driving Your Car

Rail is wonderful. Rail is great. Rail is low-carbon, low stress and often low-cost as well. But too often, the lack of a good way to get to and from the railway station can be a dealbreaker. So here are a few ways to get access to the station, as modeled in Delft, a Dutch city of about 100,000.

1. BYO bike
On your home turf, your own bike is the method of choice. Bicycle parking, or "fietsenstalling" in Dutch, is free on the outside racks. There is a small daily fee for a spot on the covered racks where your bike stays dry and an attendant keeps an eye on things. (The building's colour, "Delft Blue", was probably chosen for the benefit of visitors).

Most stations in Dutch cities offer bicycle parking, ranging from a few racks in small towns, to the three-story bicycle palace next to Central Station in Amsterdam. Which is pretty full on most work days.

If you must have your very own bike where you get off the train, you can bring it with you for a small fee. There are designated places where you can store your bike on the train.

2. Bike Rental
The bike parking attendant is also the person to speak to about renting a bike. This runs about €7 ($10) a day for a standard bike, and about €20 ($27) a day for an electric-assisted bike.

3. BikeShare
This is increasingly popular in many cities all over the world, and come with many names. In Holland, it's called OV Fiets. OV stands for Openbaar Vervoer, or public transport, so OV Fiets is the public transport bike: part of the network. They come, of course, painted in the yellow and blue of the Dutch Railways.

Just as car sharing schemes are less expensive than car rentals, so bike sharing is less expensive than bike rentals: about half as expensive. But you have to be more organised about it, and reserve a bike in advance. Like with car sharing, you need a membership (€10 a year). Pre-booked bikes are €3.15 a day up to three days, and the rental fee is charged to the bank account linked to your membership card.

At smaller stations there is no attendant who can help you get your OV Fiets (or, indeed sell you tickets). In such cases, share bikes are stored in locked boxes that you can open with your membership card. Return the bike when you catch your return train, swipe your card, and you're done.

4. Bus / Tram / Subway
Delft's network of city buses is pretty dense, you usually don't have to walk more than a block or two to find a bus stop. Most city subway systems have stops adjacent or attached to train stations.

5. Get a Ride with a Friend
Note: I didn't say "Drive". Asking someone to drop you off makes sense because most Dutch stations, especially the ones in cities, don't have parking. Or parking at exorbitant prices. Delft Central station has a dozen Kiss And Ride spots for five minutes max. I guess they expect you to do most of your kissing before you leave the house.

6. Car Share.
One spot at Delft's Kiss And Ride row is reserved for the Green Wheels car, which works like any other car sharing scheme, such as ZipCar or Autolib'. A GreenWheels car can be parked anywhere: you can find the nearest available one using their real-time map.

7. ZoneTaxi.
The Dutch Railways used to offer something called TrainTaxi, where you reserve a taxi to get to and from your station(s) at reduced rate when you bought your train ticket (which you used to do at the station). ZoneTaxi is similar: you reserve online ahead of your trip (you do need to register), and pay according to the distance, measured in zones, which are areas within a radius of 2, 4 and 6 km of the station (these are €6, €9 and €12, respectively, significantly less expensive than a regular taxi).

The drawback of OV Fiets, Green Wheels and ZoneTaxi is that you need a membership to the Dutch public transport system (which most Dutch people have) and a Dutch bank account. If you don't have those you're out of luck and you pay the tourist price. A lot of visitors to the Netherlands complain about this: not so much because they can't get a bike, but because they get to pay the higher rates at the regular rental.

8. Taxi.
Every station has a taxi stand. 'Nuff said.

I'm sure you can think of other ways to get to the station. So if yours only has the taxi stand plus a vast asphalt lot, work on your town to get some alternatives. There are many greener and healthier ways to get there.



You may also like:
1. Why I love high-speed trains
2. How will you travel for Thanksgiving? -- Your per-mile travel footprint


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