In February 2020, NS presented its strategy for the 2020-2025 period. However, the projected consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic for NS over the next few years have caused us to adapt the implementation of that strategy.
COVID-19 has encouraged companies, including NS, to reconsider their strategies, postpone programmes, accelerate other activities and identify new areas of focus. Our primary objective is to ensure that passengers opt for the train again. Despite the pandemic, we are as committed as ever to our vision, mission and ambition.
Our mission and vision
Our vision was born from the wish to offer solutions for the transport challenges that the Netherlands is facing. It serves as the foundation of our strategy. That vision for the future of NS and for our role in the Dutch mobility sector was conceived in part on the basis of a broad dialogue with internal and external stakeholders. Travelling where and whenever you wish, in a manner that suits you best and with maximum comfort: we want this to be a sustainable reality for every person in the Netherlands. Our mission is also to serve all of the Netherlands: the big cities, all other regions and connections to other countries.
Together, we are making the Netherlands accessible in a sustainable manner – for everyone.
That is our mission. It is not just our trains that help to create that accessibility. We also, emphatically, consider contributions from other modes of travel for passengers, from the first to the last mile of their door-to-door journey, and with stations serving as attractive hubs for transfer passengers.
Despite the huge impact of the pandemic, over the period up to 2025 we will continue to develop value for our customers and for society at large while ensuring a healthy financial return. Going forward, this will enable us to keep train fares affordable while continuing to invest in meeting the country's mobility needs.
We and our partners deliver world-class mobility with a sense of responsibility towards our local environment. Always accessible, always affordable and always sustainable.
That is our ambition. As such, we are proactively contributing to the economic and spatial development of the Netherlands. What we aim to offer all passengers is optimised accessibility, including for passengers with a disability and for the next generation. This is why we operate as sustainably as possible.
We also seek to provide our passengers with a broad range of mobility services, with seamless transitions between regional, urban, national and international travel. Collaboration is the key to achieving this. So we are joining forces with the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management (the franchising authority), ProRail, stakeholders, other carriers and partners. Internally we also operate as a single, united NS wherever that is possible.
Strategic themes for 2020-2025 and beyond
Our strategy focuses on NS's ambitions in the Netherlands, with detailed plans for the period up to 2025 and in outline for the subsequent period. Our main priority remains ‘passengers, passengers and passengers’: on our trains, at the stations and from door to door. We want to develop from a train company into a mobility company, with the train serving as the backbone of our business. Within this strategy, stations are hubs for mobility and quality of life. It is important for us to continue investing in mobility in the Netherlands.
To get the Netherlands moving again in a responsible and comfortable manner, we need to balance the supply of mobility with the demand for mobility. In this context, the COVID-19 crisis has made agility, efficiency and effectiveness more important than ever. NS's financial position forces us to make even more careful choices as to the things we should and should not do. This will enable us to continue supplying high-quality services for passengers at affordable rates. For extensive information about the future course of NS, visit www.ns.nl.
Recovering passenger numbers by offering reliable travel services
Our primary objective is to ensure a responsible and comfortable journey for our passengers, inspiring confidence that our trains and stations are a safe environment. More than ever before, it is essential for us to respond to changes in our customers’ needs: lower levels of crowdedness, more service, flexibility at all times and more control of the journey from door to door. Once passenger numbers start rising again, we will need to spread them more evenly across peak and off-peak hours to ensure optimum deployment of rolling stock. This is why NS remains focused on developing a range of flexible mobility options geared towards recovery and renewed growth. NS aims for permanent improvement in balancing passenger supply and demand (spread). This should help to both optimise the capacity utilisation rate and achieve a healthier business model.
Comprehensive mobility services and world-class stations
Rail travel is and will remain the backbone of our operations, within the broader scope of mobility services. Passengers increasingly demand personalised and tailored advice, and a reliable range of services to travel from A to B. The focus for NS, therefore, is on further developing both the range of mobility options and personalised digital passenger services. After all, passengers have to make the full door-to-door journey and arrange all the various stages: planning and booking the trip, paying the fares, travelling to the station, changing trains at another station, moving on to their final destination, using P+R facilities – and finding alternatives when the train is not a suitable option.
In collaboration with ProRail, we develop and operate world-class railway stations where people can do far more than just catch a train. By linking all these stages in a seamless chain, physically and digitally, we can give every individual traveller a convenient and comfortable experience and a broader choice of options.
NS has the capability and the ambition to act as a link between the various parties involved to eliminate the current fragmentation of transport services. After all, the best solution will be achieved by treating the Dutch mobility network as a single entity. In doing so, we join forces with other parties so as to be able to provide the best options for our passengers across the country. We are involved in area development projects aimed at enhancing the potential of station districts for residential and other functions.
Sustainable accessibility, nationally and internationally
NS continues to lead by example in the field of sustainability, which is one aspect of its social role. In this way, we contribute to the sustainable accessibility of towns and cities within and outside the Netherlands. This also encompasses our ambition to connect the Netherlands with the countries around us in the short and medium term. Together with our European partners we are creating a joint sustainable mobility sector. For example, we intend to develop railway travel into the logical preferred option for short international journeys (up to around 700 kilometres). That will benefit both the environment and the economy. Our foreign operations will have to contribute to our ambitions and, as such, serve the interests of Dutch passengers. For example, we expect to be able to expand and enhance cross-border connections in Germany, with obvious benefits for Dutch passengers.
An agile organisation
The world around us is changing at a speed that forces us to develop into an agile, digital and data-driven organisation. Accelerating the digitisation process and the move towards data-driven operations will make us more agile and ensure optimum customer experience in the future. This will help us achieve the level of efficiency and effectiveness we need to become more flexible and improve our financial results. Going forward, this will enable us to keep train fares affordable while continuing to invest in the country's mobility needs.
Main rail network franchise from 2025
In June, the Dutch government decided – and the Lower House of Parliament has since agreed – that NS should continue to serve the main rail network beyond 2024 . This concerns rail transport using Sprinter trains and Intercity trains. Domestic services on the high-speed line will also remain part of the main rail network franchise. The term of the new franchise has not been determined yet. As NS is eager to continue serving its passengers in the future, it welcomes the government's decision as a sign of confidence based on our performance in recent years.
According to the coalition agreement, one or more of the four Sprinter services that are currently part of the main rail network were to be transferred. The government's plan is to cut the Zwolle–Leeuwarden (currently: Meppel–Leeuwarden) Sprinter service from the new franchise and decentralise it. The relevant arrangements have yet to be agreed with the provincial authorities of Friesland, Drenthe and Overijssel. The Zwolle–Groningen and Apeldoorn–Enschede Sprinter services may follow suit at a later stage, and move from the main rail network to regional franchises. The franchises concerned will expire in 2032 (Apeldoorn-Enschede) and 2035 (Zwolle-Groningen). According to NS, this further fragmentation of rail transport in the Netherlands does little to serve the interests of passengers. On the contrary, it will result in longer travel times, more points where passengers have to change trains, and more uncertainty about rail fares.
The government intends to conduct a market exploration to study the extent to which international connections would benefit from more deregulation (‘open access’, allowing carriers to operate without a franchise). NS is concerned about this study and the ‘open access’ principle involved. Over the past five years, we have operated more international trains than in the preceding fifteen years, and we have ambitious plans for even better and faster international rail connections for the Netherlands. The study into the possibility of totally reorganising international rail transport will create uncertainty and will have a negative impact on the ambitions to further improve the international accessibility of the Netherlands.
Demands for the future
The government expects us to further enhance our performance, including further improvements in punctuality figures, better travel information services and continued responsiveness to changes in passenger numbers and other developments. While all of this is in line with our ambitions, at this point in time NS's financial position is an urgent priority if we are to keep the Netherlands accessible in a sustainable and affordable manner. In addition, all carriers operating under a franchise will be legally obliged to provide public transport utilisation data. Pursuant to the General Data Protection Regulation, that information will be fully anonymised so that it cannot be traced to individuals.