12 Reasons that Amsterdam has the best transport system

The map. Image: Gemeentelijk Vervoerbedrijf (GVB).

Last month, a great injustice befell the readers of CityMetric. Accompanied by what I can only assume to be a feeling of collective horror, an article appeared with the accompanying claim that the Lisbon Metro “blows every other transport system out of the water”.

Now, whilst I accept the claim that metros are, indeed, great, as is Lisbon, the author makes one fundamental and catastrophic error. They misidentify which one is, in truth, the best. The best metro does not lie in Lisbon: it lies in Amsterdam.

Here are twelve reasons why.

1. It’s one of the great train maps

It may be true that Lisbon’s map is simple and effective, but the Amsterdam Metro is in a league of its own. Look at it, it’s an elegant but exceptionally straightforward collection without clutter or silly routes (hello, London). It just needs to be a bit longer.

2. You can go on the underground. In Amsterdam

For a city famed for its canals and below-sea-level foundations, the fact that Amsterdam has a series of underground stations is itself quite the achievement. A mixture of bored and immersed tunnels, the newly-opened North-South line runs directly underneath some of the city’s oldest streets.

Even more thrilling is that one of the stations is called Waterlooplein, thereby all-but confirming that Mamma Mia 3 will revolve around a rowdy weekend in the Dutch capital and Colin Firth falling into a canal. 

3. The tickets are accessible and needs-focused

Planning a trip to Amsterdam but you want need free entry to museums and unlimited access to public transport? Get a City Card. Need something a bit cheaper or lasts a bit longer? GVB, the transport authority which operates the metro, has that covered. Because the company operates both the trams and the city’s metro, any ticket you buy is compatible with both, which is a genuine joy when compared to the stuff the UK gets up to.

As with Lisbon, day tickets last for 24 hours. Sort it out, Grayling.


4. One of their station’s doubles up as an archaeological museum

The arrival of the new Noord-Zuidlijn line (North-South) in July 2018 brought with it an unexpected bonus. Around 700,000 objects were uncovered by archaeologists during the construction of the line, with the oldest dating back to 2400BCE.

Each object can be examined on a specialist website, belowthesurface.amsterdam, but that’s not the best part. If you head to Rokin station, close to the centre of the city, you’ll be able to see around 10,000 of the excavated objects on the escalator ride down.

And what’s better than a metro station that’s also a museum? Right? Guys?

5. It opens up access to a part of the city you’ll have never been to

So, you think Amsterdam is essentially just an old town with a few suburbs? Well, turns out there’s an extra part of the city that you’ve almost certainly never been to (unless you’ve studied at Vrije University, or live there).

Zuidas is Amsterdam’s financial district, the new home of the EMA, and almost certainly where half of Canary Wharf is going to end up after Brexit. So… check it out, maybe?

6. It’s surprisingly quiet. And clean

Discounting the bit of winter when snow adorned Europe and nobody could use a bike, riding the metro is a generally spacious affair, to the point where you can actually find a seat. The carriages are even clean and surprisingly enjoyable. Madness.

7. It doesn’t intrude on the city

In spite of the increasing size, the Metro operates largely outside of the urban hub, with stations designed to have a minimal impact on the surrounding area. Instead, it primarily focuses on taking passengers to and from Amsterdam Centraal station and outlying residential areas and major venues such as the Bijlmer ArenA. Because of this, you only ever have to use the metro when you either want or need to, which is exactly how a metro should work.

8. T R A M S

TRAMS! In the Dam Square. Image: Getty.

Yes, trams. As CityMetric readers are hopefully aware, they are like buses but more amazing. Given that only a select few metro lines operate inside the centre of Amsterdam, trams quickly assert themselves as the only practical means of public transport, and the best way to get around if you don’t have a bike.

9. Accessibility is taken care of

Liberalism and inclusivity have long-been seen as Amsterdam’s guiding ideological principles. Every station is therefore designed to cater for disabled access, with specialised information publicly available and step-free access.


10. The in-train maps are a step above

Instead of simply having the boring old maps you get in London, each station is fitted with a little bulb that lights up if it’s on your route, going out once the respective station is behind you. It’s a simple solution that is also a lifesaver if you’re terrible at remembering where you are.

11. It’s in Amsterdam

For starters, Amsterdam is objectively one of the world’s great cities. It’s densely populated but immediately accessible, it has great food, great music, bicycles, great museums, and great architecture, and it’s where all our businesses are going to go after Brexit. It therefore wins by default.

12. It TILTS

Okay, so it doesn’t really tilt. That is, it’s not a full-on rollercoaster. Tilting only occurs for about five-seconds on a Gein branch of the East Line to Isolatorweg, just near Biljmer ArenA. [Editor’s note: That A is actually capitalized. No idea.]

But 1) it tilts, and 2) if you’ve just been to IKEA after a night of writing essays for your MA to replace the mugs you’ve accidentally broken, it’s the best thing on earth.

 
 
 
 

What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.


Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.