When public transport chip cards were introduced, the public transport companies promised that fines for students would now be a thing of the past, but they broke that promise. They said it was technically impossible for them to automatically cancel the chip cards once students were no longer eligible for them. Since then the companies have not been in a hurry to remedy said technical issues. On the contrary – the companies have actually lobbied for higher fines.
In the end, it was the Dutch Lower House that enforced changes to the system. Since 2019, public transport companies have not been allowed to impose fines on students who did not actually use the card after they became ineligible to use it. This has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of fines imposed.
In addition, the public transport companies were ordered to work on solutions to the technical issues. They have since implemented a ‘blacklist’ of sorts: if you check in using an invalid public transport chip card, the special feature that allows students to travel for free may be removed from the card automatically.
Students are not placed on this blacklist until one month after they stop being eligible for the card. First they are fined 78 euros for each half month they wrongfully use the card. After the first month, these fines are doubled. In other words, students will receive substantial fines if they forget to cancel the discount feature on their cards themselves.
It should be noted that the number of students fined (24,146 in 2020) was not all that much lower than the year before (26,881). However, the average fine paid by the students was reduced considerably (to 271 euros, down from 454).
The latter reduction may have been partially due to changes to the messages DUO sends to students who have lost eligibility for a student discount. Formerly the warnings were not all that clear: ‘You have a message in your MijnDUO inbox.’ Now they are clearer: ‘You have been fined.’
Student organisation ISO believes that DUO should do more to warn students. “There are still quite a few students who aren’t aware that they must cancel the student discount feature on their chip cards themselves”, says ISO Chair Lisanne de Roos. “Communications about cancelling the chip card could definitely do with some improvement.”
The National Student Union (LSVb) is not happy with the situation either, and wants the student discount feature on the cards to be cancelled automatically. LSVb chair Ama Boahene believes that technical issues do not constitute a valid excuse not to do so. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way. They could also choose not to impose high fines on students but only have them pay for the trips they’ve actually made.”
During the coronavirus pandemic, many students had the student discount feature on their public transport chip cards extended by three months. Boahene fears that this will result in more students being fined. “Precisely because they received this extension, many students have now lost track of when their student discount expires.”