The world is changing rapidly. Due to the coronavirus, however, some developments are accelerating while others are slowing down. The significant uncertainties involved make it difficult to predict those developments, which has made it all the more important to monitor them carefully over the period ahead.
Urbanisation, new construction and a regional tailor-made approach
Before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was expected that by 2030 most Dutch municipalities, and especially the big cities, would be grappling with housing shortages. According to the CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis, the impact of COVID-19 on the housing market has so far remained limited. Despite CPB figures indicating a temporary decrease in the demand for homes, the economic consequences for the housing market have remained small and the severe housing shortage continues. Indeed, overall the demand for homes is not expected to decrease over the period until 2035.
The acute need for more houses is accompanied by major challenges in spatial planning and calls for a vision on mobility. For example, area development projects include a focus on mobility issues to ensure that new housing estates are accessible. Over the past few years, continuing urbanisation has fuelled strong growth in passenger numbers in urban areas. In contrast, sparsely populated regions saw passenger volumes decline further, which has made it difficult to maintain the existing level of public transport services in those regions. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has generated a counter movement, with people attaching more value to space in their living environment. Due to its limited scale, the impact of this trend is relatively small, and it also remains to be seen how long the trend will last. We are carefully monitoring this, especially in order to gain a better understanding of regional demand for transport and specific needs. The strong growth in passenger numbers in urban areas, combined with the drop of passenger numbers in sparsely populated areas, could potentially raise the pressure on the existing public transport system. Given the considerable regional differences in developments, tailored solutions are essential.
The growing importance of sustainable mobility
Climate change is high on the political agenda. From the Dutch Climate Agreement to the European Green Deal: sustainability is increasingly being integrated in everything we do and in the requirements that the EU, the Dutch government and society impose on our services, products and rolling stock. This is driving change in the type of travel services society requires, with a growing preference for rail rather than air or road transport. The CPB expects that the growth of sustainable mobility will accelerate.3 Both within the Netherlands and internationally, rail travel is part of the solution to the climate problem. All NS operated trains are 100% electrically powered. This is one of our contributions to a more sustainable society. Monitoring other developments such as self-driving, electric transport facilities will also remain important. They offer great additional potential to help keep the Netherlands accessible, also in areas where currently there are no train services.
Evolving customer wishes
The world is changing, and so are the wishes of our passengers. They want to be able to travel to all parts of the country, fast and conveniently. The Netherlands needs an integrated mobility system with a strong public transport component. Key elements are a faster and more convenient door-to-door journey and better international connections to and from the Netherlands.
Most of us now plan our journeys digitally. At the same time, we should no longer take for granted that people, especially young urban dwellers, own a car or bicycle. As for the chosen means of transport, availability and convenience are key. Passengers want to be able to choose the means of transport that suits them best for each individual journey. In the future, all forms of mobility will be linked both physically and digitally, to enable the most suitable choices at each stage of the of the door-to-door journey. This concept is known as Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS). Shared-bicycle concepts such as the public transport bicycle (OV-fiets) are now firmly established as part of a transformation that is also being fuelled by Swapfiets, Felyx (electric scooters) and shared-car concepts such as SnappCar and Greenwheels.
NS is making significant efforts in this area, in collaboration with its partners. We do so, among other things, by optimising the physical and digital connections between the various modes of transport, and also by improving travel options for the first and last mile. For example, we are developing a platform covering all transport modes and improving our NS App by continually enhancing the travel planner information it offers.
Technological developments are crucial if we are to realise our ambitions for a safe, sustainable and smart public transport and mobility system. Given the projected mobility trends and sustainability targets, even during the current crisis period NS will continue to focus, with its partners, on innovation to prepare the railway network and the NS organisation for the future. For example, technical innovations enable us to operate more trains, further raise safety levels and reduce the number and length of stops, thus also cutting journey times, resulting in better services for passengers. Toekomstbeeld OV 4 (Vision for the Future of Public Transport, TBOV) highlights the need for innovations in digitisation and quantum leaps in technology, such as Automatic Train Operation (ATO) and the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS).5 In addition, developments such as artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things, coupled with the ever growing quantity and diversity of data, will help us further improve our services and provide seamless door-to-door journeys in the future. The COVID-19 crisis is further accelerating the rate of digitisation and technological development, creating new opportunities.