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.

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  1. Jeremy says:

    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?

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  2. Bgriff says:

    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.

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  3. Robbie says:

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

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  4. Chris Tilbury says:

    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

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  5. Bas Hamer says:

    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.

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  6. Matt says:

    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.

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  7. Iljitsch van Beijnum says:

    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.

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  8. Wa says:

    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.

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