The Very American is married to their car, or so I like to think since the automobile is my preferred method of travel. In the era of Go Green, Protect the Environment, Sustainable Solutions, the large SUV vehicles we’ve owned can draw looks as if we’re sporting golden retriever fur coats. People are more understanding of our current minivan especially since it barely fits our growing family of 6. (And before you ask, Mom, the growth I reference is all up.)
In Holland we mostly travel local and on bicycles since the affordable home repair service keeps 8 of our 10 bikes going strong. (The other 2 are for spare parts). I’ll confess I’ve only used the buses and trams twice in a solid year. Why?
The ov-chipkaart is your ticket to ride public transport in The Netherlands. One would think this chipped credit card looking pass a one-size fits all travel solution. Well, if you’re single or perhaps a couple, pick up the personal ov card which has your photo and entitles you to constant discounts. This was my original intention. There are perks such as being automatically recharged from your EU bank account and invalidated if stolen. Discounts, perks and protection–sigh me up!
Early on when I drove two towns over to where I could actually purchase such a card our bank account wasn’t active yet (and must be), so I made a trip for nothing. They handed me the paperwork to fill out for when I returned. I never went back. As the book The Undutchables states, “The card is issued after providing the authorities with your personal life history,” and not that I care, but this card has the additional benefit of providing authorities a complete history of your travels. (Kristin imagines CSI-Randstad investigating the murder of a prominent foreign national expat and showing a digital map of their movements for the last couple weeks…)
Some folks prefer the “anonymous” ov card which is what my husband purchased straight away when we arrived so that we could share the card and always have one at the ready. We get no discounts, and I learned from my most recent evening out that using the public transport with this card (one way, mind you) cost me more time and money than paying for parking would have–and this when I was traveling alone. Imagine the cost times 6. Did I mention I prefer my car?
As a tourist you can also purchase the “disposable” ov card which has limited validity (# of days or trips) and “is the most expensive way to use public transport, and therefore touted as the standard tourist card” (The Undutchables). Since most transport these days will not take cash, debit cards, or your first born, this option may be it. Step into the nearest grocery store and there maybe vending machines where you can buy these cards. I almost purchased one of these my first month but was warned the 7 euro gained me a blank card that I would need my EU bank account to load with funds before attempting travel. Surely my memory fails me–I know for sure though that I was confused and put off.
For more information visit the OV-chipkaart website where there is a link for English. I suggest you use Chrome or another browser with an automatic translation option as clicking the English link will get you to a “404 Server Error.” Maybe the OV system has something personal against me? That’s okay. My car comes fully loaded with sunglasses, umbrella, spare change, current audiobook, and a full tank of gas. (Thanks to my dear husband who spoils me incessantly. I love you!)
I know lots of people rave about public transportation and tout the ease and convenience. I suspect most of of them are from metropolitan areas or have lived most of their adult lives in such places. Me? I’m from a town so small there was only one dilapidated, four-door, green land-barge Buick offering a taxi service if the old guy who drove it wasn’t napping somewhere. Buses were big, yellow, and for school children only. Beyond that “public” transportation meant you were walking or had your car windows rolled down. These days I’m grateful for all these ov-savy travelers, as I hope their preference leaves a parking spot I can ease my 7-passenger van into even when traveling alone.
Kristin King is an author, publisher, nonprofit president, and US expat finishing her first full year living in Holland.